Obama vs. Romney III: “I got nuthin’,” but there’s a reason for that

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. –Benjamin Franklin

Foreign policy was the subject of the third and final round of debates between the legacy party duopoly candidates, and if I’m asked to review a repeat performance with different players in 2016, I’ll go do something more easy and fun, like having my wisdom teeth removed.

To begin with, I find the foreign policy positions taken by the emergent parties far more congenial than of the legacy parties as expressed in this “debate.”

Jill Stein (Greens):

7. Protect our personal liberty and freedoms by:

• repealing the Patriot Act and those parts of the National Defense Authorization Act that violate our civil liberties;
• prohibiting the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI from conspiring with local police forces to suppress our freedoms of assembly and of speech; and,
• ending the war on immigrants — including the cruel, so-called “secure communities” program.

8. Rein in the military-industrial complex by:

• reducing military spending by 50% and closing U.S. military bases around the world;

• restoring the National Guard as the centerpiece of our system of national defense; and,

• creating a new round of nuclear disarmament initiatives.

Gary Johnson (Libertarian):

Bring the Troops Home

AMERICAN MILITARY ACTIVITIES IN AFGHANISTAN SHOULD END, our troops returned home, and the focus of our foreign policy reoriented toward the protection of U.S. citizens and interests.

• With Osama bin Laden now killed and after 10 years of fighting, U.S. forces should leave Afghanistan’s challenges to the Afghan people.

• Decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, American troops remain scattered throughout Europe. It is time to reevaluate these deployments.

• The U.S. must make better use of strategic alliances which allow greater sharing of the human and financial burdens at less cost of protecting national interests.
AMERICA CAN ACHIEVE OUR FOREIGN POLICY GOALS without sacrificing American values.

• No criminal or terrorist suspect captured by the U.S. should be subject to physical or psychological torture.

• Individuals incarcerated unjustly by the U.S. should have the ability to seek compensation through the courts.

• Individuals detained by the U.S., whether it be at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere, must be given due process via the courts or military tribunals, and must not be held indefinitely without regard to those fundamental processes.

Needless to say, none of these positions were “on the table” in what passed for a debate between the two legacy party candidates. Note that Stein (NDAA) and Johnson (due process) are strong on a restoration of Constitutional governance after the foreign policy-driven aggrandizement of executive power that Bush began and that Obama extended, rationalized, and consolidated. For those concerned — as the Framers were — about tyranny, that strength is an important consideration. James Madison wrote in Federalist #47:

The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny. … “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person or body,” says [Montesquieu], “there can be no liberty, because apprehensions may arise lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws to execute them in a tyrannical manner. ” Again: “Were the power of judging joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor. ”

And yet such [primitive?] “accumulation of all powers” is exactly what Obama has done with his “Kill List,” about which prominent Democrats — in a classic demonstration of the stupid and/or evil conundrum — profess to know nothing, even though administration figures themselves planted the story on the front page of the New York Times:

[1] Mr. Obama has placed himself at the helm of a top secret ‘nominations’ process to designate terrorists for kill or capture, of which the capture part has become largely theoretical. … [2] It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. … [3] The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel prepared a lengthy memo justifying that extraordinary step, asserting that while the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.

Wading through Izvestia’s sludgy and security-state infested prose power by power, we find: [3] the legislative power writing the law, [2] the judicial power determining who was broken the law, and [1] the executive power imposing the death penalty. All three powers are concentrated in the same hands: The administration’s. That’s tyranny. QED.

But we will hear nothing of this from either legacy party candidate. That’s because for both Romney and Obama, the restoration of Constitutional government is not on the agenda. They are both agreed, going forward, on tyranny. They like it fine. They think it’s swell (as, I may add, must those of their supporters who have done their due diligence). And does anybody serious believe there’s no danger that the “kill list” won’t come home? If so, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. The emergent parties get this right. The legacy parties don’t even get it wrong.

Having implicitly agreed that the American form of government going forward should be tyranny, the legacy party candidates explicitly agreed on much else. Indeed, a philosophers viewing the debate might have been reminded of the question of “the identify of indiscernibles”: Are two things that share all the same properties really one thing? … Identity of indiscernibles: “Brent Bozell, an iconic and well-regarded conservative who serves as president of the Media Research Center, messaged forty-five minutes into the debate: ‘Something is wrong with Romney tonight. He’s refusing to challenge Obama’s failed policies. He’s sounding LIKE Obama. This is terrible.‘” … Identity of indiscernibles: “On most issues, from Israel to Afghanistan, Iraq to Iran, what was striking about the Romney positions in the debate was how little they differed from Obama’s: unquestioned support for Israel if attacked; war against Iran if the country comes really close to making nuclear weapons; moral and some material support for Syrian rebels, but no military involvement; cautious but close engagement with nuclear-armed but oh-so-fragile Pakistan; withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Oh, yes, and China should be made to ‘play by the rules.’ There were no real differences, except that Romney said if he’d been president the last four years he’d have done a better job doing what Obama actually did.” …. Identity of indiscernibles: “The two men spent much of their time in broad agreement on a host of issues, including the nation’s deep commitment to Israel, the plan to remove American military troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014, the policy of sending drones to kill enemies abroad, and sanctions against Iran.” … Identity of indiscernibles: “But the tension masked the fact that on many levels the two men agree on foreign policy — underscoring the ways in which Obama has undercut the typical advantage Republicans have on national security matters. … Identity of indiscernibles: “But Mr Romney mostly refused to take the bait, agreeing with Mr Obama on the handling of Syria and Egypt, endorsing his use of drones and refusing to re-engage on the controversy of the handling of the September attack of the US consulate in Libya.”

And the pundits? They got nuthin’ either. Polls: “There have been some past debates when the instant-reaction polls judged one candidate to be the winner, but the head-to-head polls eventually moved in the opposite direction” (Nate Silver). … “Audience: “I observed the debate with 80 Wake Forest University alumni in Washington, a sedate crowd most any time, their response, fitting to the debate, was at best tepid. Following the debate I queried the gathering for an instance of ‘something new learned from the debate’ roundly greeted by blank stares.” (Alan Louden, Wake Forest) … Snark: ” Obama was overall presidential, helping his case, but scolding Romney that submarines exist had unflattering, mocking quality.” … Meta: ” Completed the trifecta of appearing as the President’s semiotic equal in every debate” (Mark Halperin). … But let’s look on the bright side: The entire Lynn University campus was on lockdown for (I am told) 48 hours before the balloon went up, so several thousand bright young people got a lesson in compliance with the organs of our national security state!

So, I got nuthin’. The main issue wasn’t debated: Tyranny. The issues that were debated, the candidates agreed on. (“Israel: America’s Greatest Ally, or Greatest Ally of Any Nation, Anywhere, Any Time? You have two minutes”) Gotchas and telling vignettes are fun, but I just don’t have the heart this evening. So I’d like to return to another issue on which both legacy candidates agree: The duties of the President. To the transcript:

OBAMA: Well, my first job as commander in chief, Bob, is to keep the American people safe.

OBAMA: Those decisions generally are not poll tested*. But what the American people understand is that I look at what we need to get done to keep the American people safe and to move our interests forward. And I make those decisions [cf.]

ROMNEY: Look, this, in my view, is the highest responsibility of the President of the United States, which is to maintain the safety of the American people.

(In response to Romney, Obama deploys the battleships and bayonets talking point, which becomes a main focus of attention for the political class). Unfortunately, both legacy party candidates — assuming, for the sake of the argument, that we still have a system of Constitutional government — are wrong in their expressed understanding of the duties of a President. Here is the Presidential Oath of Office, which one of them has already taken, and one of them will take in January 2009:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

So, if oaths mean anything these days, the “first job” or “highest responsibility” of the President is not the “safety” of the American people — an infantile conception of both governance and citizenship — but to “preserve, protect, and defend” the Constitution.

But as we have seen, neither legacy party candidate has any interest whatever in doing that. Sad.

NOTE * BWA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!! See at “Axelrod.”

NOTE I will return with regular campaign coverage — of all sorts and conditions of campaigns — tomorrow.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Ray Duray

    I think Glenn Greenwald nailed this third debate perfectly when he wrote:

    “That was just a wretched debate, with almost no redeeming qualities. It was substance-free, boring, and suffuse with empty platitudes. Bob Scheiffer’s questions were even more vapid and predictably shallow than they normally are, and one often forgot that he was even there (which was the most pleasant part of the debate.) The vast majority of the most consequential foreign policy matters (along with the world’s nations) were completely ignored in lieu of their same repetitive slogans on the economy. When they did get near foreign policy, it was to embrace the fundamentals of each other’s positions and, at most, bicker on the margin over campaign rhetoric.

    “Numerous foreign policy analysts, commentators and journalists published lists of foreign policy questions they wanted to hear asked and answered at this debate. Almost none was raised. In sum, it was a perfect microcosm of America’s political culture.”


    1. Synopticist

      Glen Greenwald the Koch funded libertarian you mean?

      The same guy who invariably ignores ” same repetitive slogans on the economy…” because that’s where there truly are substantive differences between Romney and Obama.

      1. Alex

        The guy is tenacious in his foreign policy critiques of America…that’s his specialty. So he wrote 2 policy papers for the cato institute, papers he truly believes in. Stop being one of those conspiracy linkers that assume everyone has metal box in their skull with levers controlled by the Kochs. He hasn’t ignored the economy…That’s not his expertise. He approaches it from a legal standpoint and he always points out how no one has gone to jail for the financial crisis under Obama. and if he were Koch controlled as you assume why would he write this? http://www.salon.com/2011/03/27/koch_2/

  2. Middle Seaman

    Actually, the post mentions four (4) legacy parties. Neither the Greens nor the Libertarians have any ideas that haven’t been on some agenda since 1950.

    Granted Obama, and the Republicans, has extended the power of the state way beyond previously imaginable. We don’t need the military we have; we need about 20% of it. But the military is also a major economic power and a substitute has to be on the agenda before any change. None of the four parties addresses this difficult problem.

    None of the four parties addresses FDR’s 2nd bill of rights with right for employment, with a living wage, freedom from unfair competition and monopolies, housing, medical care, education and social security. The Greens are the fat cats of society with finely tunes fashionable ideas. That’s nice for them and does nothing for labor and the poor.

    The Greens and Libertarians are basically isolationist which is not much of a solution for anything anyway.

    Our political rainbow is gray only.

    1. Brindle

      The Greens and Libertarians have an understanding and sense of proportion about the U.S. and its behavior and relations with the rest of the planet.
      Isolationist only in comparison to the extremist model of the Legacy Party.

  3. Max424

    I thought it was kinda cool the way Romney was able to hold like 8 different viewpoints when confronted with 3 different aspects of the “China conundrum.”

    Imagine a magic triangle that can have 5,6,7 whatever amount of angles, and there’s one man, so gifted, he can play them all.

    The Talented Mr. Romney. Fucking amazing. Seriously. They should make a movie.

    1. Synopticist

      He was in favour of invading Iran even earlier than he was first in favour of it, for Pete’s sake. Only it wouldn’t cost a penny.

  4. Obamanation

    I’ve got news for you plebes: National Security is for the most part out of my hands. Soon after I was elected in 2008 I was “brought into the fold” and told in no uncertain terms that some of my more grandiose campaign promises in this area would remain just that (Guantanamo Bay closing, War criminal investigations, etc.). “National Security”, aka global geo-political strategy, has been deemed MUCH to important to leave to the whims of a fickle electorate every four years. Why do you think Dick Cheney was on the ticket in 2000 and 2004? To keep an eye on young Master W and ensure that “adults would remain in charge.” I can assure you, my “opponent” has been brought into the fold already this time, and any differences we might have can be chalked up to mere stage theatrics. “The committee” knows full well that certain “exaggerations” must be told during the election cycle, all the better to keep you plebes turning cartwheels. Rest assured, the ship of state remains FIRMLY on course for yours and my lifetimes. Pay no attention to the electioneering blather.

    1. tejanojim

      Thanks, Obamanation. Please allow me to point out that the ship of state may well founder on the rocks of Reality Point during our lifetimes, course correction or no.

  5. vlade

    Maybe Mitt agreed with everything Obama says, becasue it he wouldn’t he would find himself on the top of the Kill List as a prime enemy of POTUS ergo “Enemy Number One”.

    And getting Mitt would be much easier than getting Osama. You could even do a reward for it – say half of Mitt’s wealth (since POTUS ENO means treason means allowed confiscation of the property).

    1. citalopram

      Mitt’s untouchable, much like Obummer. They’re all a part of the club and you and I ain’t invited.

      I have it on good word from a family member that Obummer treats the military guys who gaurd him like shit. See, they ain’t a part of the club either.

      The R’s and D’s don’t drone each other, but they’ll drone us if given the rope.

      1. BobS

        That’s interesting, because I have it on good word that your family member is talking out their ass and that you’re full of shit.

    2. TK21

      Romney–a Republican–agrees with everything Obama says because Obama agrees with everything Republicans have said the past few years. I challenge anyone to find a way in which Obama has steered the ship of state in a new direction from his predecessor.

      1. propertius

        Sure, Bush never asserted the ability to execute US citizens without trial. That’s change you can believe in!

  6. Clive

    What struck me as an outsider was the rhetoric about “America’s preeminent position as “. Whoever was trotting that guff out, be it Romney or Obama, they sounded tired, resentful and like they didn’t really want that role anyway.

    Are those the things that Americans want to be ? If not, then drop them, no-one’s forcing you. Then, maybe, it’ll be apparent that such positioning isn’t based on compassion or altruism. They’re a product of wanna-be hegemony. Not by the wonderful, generous, inspiring population at large of your fine country. No, it’s your dud politicos fantasy island.

  7. Obamanation

    “Numerous foreign policy analysts, commentators and journalists published lists of foreign policy questions they wanted to hear asked and answered at this debate. Almost none was raised.

    For good reason. None of them are negotiable in the least and most are simply questions that neither I nor my erstwhile opponent will ever be allowed to decide anyway. There’s a reason we don’t discuss these things in public. The public doesn’t even want to know what it doesn’t need to know, believe me. Nothing good could possibly come from it.

  8. JEHR

    Could you please ask the President, whoever is elected, to quit referring to himself as “The leader of the free world.” No election has been held on the appropriateness of that nom de querre and, therefore, it does not fit.

  9. ffff

    You’re a better man than I, watching all this bullshit fake democracy. Brennan’s Stepinfetchit wants to keep me safe, huh huh, if CIA’s sniveling made man even mentioned the supreme law of the land, the spooks would blow his brains out. I imagine it’s kind of interesting to see the law formally set aside with constitutional-law minstrelsy from a powerless worm like Obama. You’re never gonna get the CIA and its puppet rulers under control without the Rome Statute. It’s made for states like ours that go rotten to the core. The world is coming around to the realization that rule of law will have to be imposed on the US government, mostly from without. The subject population doesn’t have much a role when the state is this far gone. They can help wreck the economy and polity, that’s all. But it’s probably going to take a bunch of nukes. I hope they can stop the US government short of nuclear winter but hey, whatever it takes. Like the Spartans concluded before the Pelopennesian War, these people aren’t going to leave you alone, you have to fight them.

  10. Eureka Springs

    I remember a few years back in response to an article in the Guardian on our war criminality I jumped into a thread and identified myself as a US citizen and told the international participants we needed all the help we could with international rule of law and our war criminals… my simple plea across the cyber pond for help was censored into oblivion.

    As for the d vs r’s round three… they are simply mad men representing mad ongoing criminal organizations. I don’t know why so many of us who realize it keep negotiating.

    When the so-called good guy is bragging about starving to death as many of 75 million Iranians as possible based on lies about their nuke capability and intent…. all was lost long ago. There is no good guy.

    If we want to negotiate with them at all we should suggest the debate corporation begin and end in a duel with two pistols. Or that those war mongers two get a room and sell pay per view on cable.

    1. ee

      If you don’t mind my asking, where did you score the red pill? Americans aren’t supposed to think that way. People in the US get immersive indoctrination to make them fear rule of law as some kind of alien UN tyranny. You’re not supposed to know that rule of law protects humans from an overreaching state, or that people are supposed to know their rights and learn the duties of the state.

  11. stefanos skopros

    somewhere during the 3rd debate on foreign policy, i heard obama say that …”we funded Iron Dome,” Israel’s attack on Lebanon. did anyone else heard this fragment of dialog? or does anyone know if it’s true?

    1. TK21

      I didn’t watch this “debate” but I don’t see why that isn’t true. We send more money to Israel’s military than we spend on any kind of help for all other countries in the world combined.

    2. Jeff W

      President Obama from the debate:

      And then, I went down to the border towns of Sderot, which had experienced missiles raining down from Hamas. And I saw families there who showed me where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms. And I was reminded of what that would mean if those were my kids, which is why as president we funded an Iron Dome programme to stop those missiles.

      Spencer Ackerman in this Wired piece here: “U.S. Funds Israel’s ‘Iron Dome,’ But Doesn’t (Quite) Know How It Works”

  12. Brooklin Bridge

    Obama has a new cloud called “The Disposition Matrix” that makes judicial process free assassinations possible by storing vast amounts of data on each and every one of us (all citizens are potential terrorists) and now being able to simmer the data for five years (thank you so much, Obama, for changing that from 6 months to 5 years) in order to pick out, by secret means, the candidates for killing in an all out assault on the fifth amendment of our constitution.

    For those who believe that Obama can kill whoever he wants because, after all, he is SUCH a nice guy, or because the other guy, horrors, would – I don’t know – kill them twice in a row, or something equally dreadful, this travesty of everything our democracy stands for is in the process of being made permanent (thanks again Obama – what a legacy). The notion that this delightful Presidential remote assassination spree could go wrong if it falls into the wrong hands (are there any right hands?) will remain utterly mystifying to some, but be abruptly clear in just a little over four years when it’s the “other” cop’s turn.

  13. Hugh

    The Bush/Cheney foreign policy is Obama’s is Romney’s. Identity of indiscernibles indeed.

    I disagree with Andrew Bacevich on many things. He is too Establishmentarian for me, but he descibed perfectly back in 2008 during the last Presidential campaign the bipartisan imperial dynamic of the two parties:

    BILL MOYERS: Do you expect either John McCain or Barack Obama to rein in the “imperial presidency?”

    ANDREW BACEVICH: No. I mean, people run for the presidency in order to become imperial presidents. The people who are advising these candidates, the people who aspire to be the next national security advisor, the next secretary of defense, these are people who yearn to exercise those kind of great powers.


  14. ed burkett

    This article sums up why I won’t be voting for Obama. Ms Stein seems to note well the egregious practices of this Government. We need to return to following the Constitution and international law.

  15. Zero

    Look, while these third party candidates provided us all with a good dose of comic relief, we need to get back to serious matters now. So all you white Anglos better get off of your butts and start working for the Romney campaign right away. To ensure victory, I urge you to immediately carry out the following 4 simple but highly effective actions. Step-by-step instructions follow:

    1. Register all your dead friends and relatives to vote. Don’t forget to register your dead and living pets, because they too can vote.
    2. If you are a “job creator”, make sure you register all your illegal wetback employees to vote, AND tell them whom to vote for or else.
    3. On election day, set up a phony voting booth in your garage. Make sure you also post a sign by the curb, reading “Spiks and Nigroes vote here”. You can easily print the voting ballots on your desktop printer — feel free to use your artistic creativity here.
    4. From a payphone, call your local police and inform the officer that your colored neighbors are convicted felons who plan to vote unlawfully. Make sure you tell the officer about all your liberal neighbors as well, because liberals are nigroes too.

    Victory is ours! Victory is Romney!

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