Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Not Only Economics

Where is the hawkish U.S. Representative Pete King (R-NY) when we need him?  

In May, 2010 the hawkish Mr. King, then the ranking member (now chairperson) of the Committee on Homeland Security, wrote

While I am heartened that this first Obama Administration National Security Strategy addresses the growing problem of al-Qaeda recruiting American citizens and those in the country legally, perhaps most notable about the Strategy is what it fails to say. 

I have serious concerns about this Strategy. The Obama Administration refuses to even identify head-on the threat our nation faces. Even though we have been at war against radical Islamic jihadists since they killed almost 3,000 Americans on 9/11, the Obama Administration fails to even mention such terms. By his own account, assistant to the President John Brennan stated in a speech yesterday, “nor do we describe our enemy as ‘jihadists’ or ‘Islamists,’” even after these terrorists we are fighting continue to commit their slaughter in the name of “jihad.” The Administration is ignoring the quintessential rule of war: ‘Know Your Enemy.’ Failing to acknowledge the enemy we face will not make the enemy disappear.

Who now is "failing to acknowledge the enemy"- or American heroes?    Surprisingly, neo-con William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, a few days ago observed

The United States has some 68,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan. Over two thousand Americans have died in the more than ten years of that war, a war Mitt Romney has supported. Yet in his speech accepting his party's nomination to be commander in chief, Mitt Romney said not a word about the war in Afghanistan. Nor did he utter a word of appreciation to the troops fighting there, or to those who have fought there. Nor for that matter were there thanks for those who fought in Iraq, another conflict that went unmentioned.

Leave aside the question of the political wisdom of Romney's silence, and the opportunities it opens up for President Obama next week. What about the civic propriety of a presidential nominee failing even to mention, in his acceptance speech, a war we're fighting and our young men and women who are fighting it? Has it ever happened that we've been at war and a presidential nominee has ignored, in this kind of major and formal speech, the war and our warriors? 

The candidate's omission,though far less likely oversight than tactical positioning, may be more significant than meets the eye.   Once Mitt Romney, yearning for journalists and pundits everywhere to compare him to Ronald Reagan, parenthetically asked during his nomination acceptance speech whether Americans are "better off" than they were four years ago, the media jumped on board.    Rush Limbaugh, George Stepanopoulos, pollsters, and others were quick to ask the question, or answer it in the negative.

The question is assumed to pertain to the economic state of the nation which, as Paul Krugman explains, is better now than it was in November 2008, though worse than it would have been had Obama governed like the progressive he campaigned as.   Housing permits and retail sales generally are rising; the civilian employment-population ratio is gradually rising and is slightly higher than at the depth of the recession; the stock market is up, inflation low, and interest rates even lower; private sector employment has increased for the past 29 months; the average total tax burden is lower than it has been in decades while corporate profits are higher than in decades.   (We should acknowledge that government jobs are down and good and bad jobs alike still are leaving the country for abroad, but we wouldn't want to make Republicans giddy.)

However, the query is never posed so specifically as to specify the "economy" or the economic status of the average American family.   It is always framed in very general terms, as to being "better off" period.   And for that, Joe Biden says it best: "bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive."

Not only is bin Laden dead, but Al Qaeda seems to be on the run, though determining definitively is nearly impossible.   While drone attacks have been instrumental in destroying much of the terrorist group's leadership, "signature strikes" probably have improved Al Qaeda's recruiting more than they have impeded the group's capacity for violence.  But the likelihood that Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan will question the Administration's aggressive use of drones- or rendition, military commissions, or indefinite detention- is slight or nonexistent, and slight is on a train heading out-of-town.

So expect President Obama, when asked whether we are "better off" than four years ago- and when pre-empting the question in his acceptance speech- not to say definitively that Americans are basking in the lap of economic security.   That would be not only an exaggeration, but invite criticism for insensitivity to suffering.   He will note some improvement since the last Administration, during which the economy collapsed.  But he will argue also that America is more secure than she was a few years ago and tick off his administration's success fighting Al Qaeda, ratcheting down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, implementing health care reform, and in other areas.   And he will demonstrate a better understanding of the enemy abroad than most leading Republicans, including Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan, and Mr. King.

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