Monday, June 8, 2015

POLITICAL GAME-PLAYING AND HYPOCRISY 101: OUR MIDDLE CLASS AND FOREIGN POLICY SUFFER

As our politicians gear up for another national election next year, it is open season for those seeking high office to roll out their latest sound bites, campaign slogans, and elaborate promises on how they can solve the nation's problems and get our country back on a positive track. The game playing has already begun in full, and two of the most popular areas of focus that are emerging concern the downward well-being over the last 30 years of the nation's middle class, and the sorry state during the last 15 years of our foreign policy, with special emphasis on the continuing failures of our military involvement in the Middle East.  With each of these areas of greatly needed attention and change, most major candidates have already given a glimpse of the hand they intend to play in dealing with these major challenges, and their gamesmanship seems directed towards winning votes but not really changing policy or solving problems in realistic ways.  In short, they promise much talk; little if any positive action, and our difficulties continue unabated or are made worse.

 The following paragraphs will discuss the game playing unfolding in these two areas, as they will be paramount in both of our party's presidential campaigns.  There are other equally, or even more, important issues that should be highlighted by any responsible candidate, such as climate change, despoiling of our natural environment, weakening support for public education, infrastructure needs, campaign finance reform, underemployment and mental health crises with our youth, increased domestic violence, and failures of our justice system in administering real justice.  These are issues which one or both parties will likely tend to avoid, downplay, or try to capitalize on politically without approaching in any substantive, meaningful way. One announced candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is attempting to deal with these issues in a very earnest, probing, and change-oriented fashion. More power to him, and his endeavor to become more than a long-shot candidate or to have a major influence on whichever candidate prevails. In the meantime, others in the current political field paint a less than optimistic picture for those with basic concerns about our nation's current well-being, and desiring real political change.

Issues key to the middle class will play a prominent role in the campaign not just because it is middle class votes that typically determine the outcome of elections, as a majority of swing voters fall within that group, but also because a strong, healthy middle class is one of the defining characteristics of a vibrant, thriving, effectively-functioning nation. During post-World War 2 America, up to the 1980's, our middle class was doing well, and our nation continued to do relatively well in spite of some major governmental missteps during the late 1960's and '70's.  Since the 1980's, however, the middle class has been in decline in their economic well-being, thanks largely to Reaganomics and its supply-side, corporation and wealth-favoring policies, and has been majorly suffering since 2008 and the economic collapse following financial industry deregulation and the war and defense-spending biases of the Bush Administration. Since only Wall Street and the most wealthy have fully recovered from the economic losses incurred then, middle class issues will be focused on by both parties, Republicans blaming Obama for the lack of middle class recovery, Democrats focusing on the obstacles to real recovery which the Republican-controlled Congress have presented, with their spending priorities excluding making money available for human needs, societal enhancement, virtually anything other than defense, surveillance, and law enforcement. While Republicans will talk a lot about middle class needs, their remedies are likely to be superficial at best, rather than the substantive changes necessary, reversing some of the tax and investment changes brought on by Reaganomics and reinstituting the financial company regulations that were removed in the late 1990's.  Democrats may discuss some of the underlying causes of middle class decline, but the presumptive candidate, Hillary Clinton, is so beholden to vested financial interests herself, and with a husband who as president relaxed long-standing financial regulations and promoted foreign trade agreements which worked against middle class interests, it is difficult to see her strongly supporting middle class needs through concrete deeds that go beyond words of support. Her silence on issues now suggests she will align herself just slightly to the left of her Republican challengers on these issues, rather than become an advocate of real change, as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Robert Reich, Paul Krugman and other clear, cogent voices pushing for real change are offering.

Foreign policy will also be a key part of the campaign, Republicans attacking Democrats for the fact that our policies in the Middle East have led to more failure in that region, with the growth of ISIS into a significant force and the lack of any cohesive strategy of how to successfully involve ourselves in any of the conflicts going on in that tormented region.  If Hillary is the candidate, she will be able to place the existing conflicts and our involvement in them into the context of the situation that Obama inherited in 2008, but the fact that she played a major role in devising the strategies that we have followed since then, and the reality that they have failed miserably to achieve their ends, will be hard to defend.  The Obama administration's claim that this strategy is in fact "winning" is a spin that defies all credibility.  Republicans will all talk about what they would do to win against ISIS militarily through increasing our use of force, and that they would be able to convince what regional allies we have in the area to join with us, provide most of the "boots on the ground" to fight the battles consistent with our agenda. Easy words to say in an election, much more difficult to accomplish in a region torn by internal conflict and leery of foreign influence and domination. Hillary may be a bit less arrogant in feeling we can force the outcome that meets our desires, and be more inclined to negotiate on strategies with allies and compromise on resolutions, but she too is likely to be militarily-oriented.  And neither party's candidate is likely to deal with the underlying, most significant issue facing our involvement, do we have either the right or the capacity to take the lead in trying to orchestrate a solution to the region's conflicts?  Some would say our vital interests, economically, diplomatically, morally, are at stake. Some would say we are responsible for creating ISIS when we destroyed Iraq through extending our war against al Qaeda into Iraq and set up a government which alienated Sunnis. Even if we were complicit in breaking the region, have we the capacity to fix it, or even the right to continue imposing ourselves into a region where western powers have for centuries acted against the better, and the self-determined interests of the local inhabitants.  These are the real questions, but not ones that are likely to be heard in any real way during the campaign. In their absence, we are likely to continue to error, to blunder, to antagonize, to expend valuable resources, human and financial, in continuing questionable and losing endeavors. The political campaign will end, one candidate will win with much fanfare, but will our nation and our society, and their subsequent endeavors, also emerge victorious?  The optimism one would like to hold is difficult to foresee.