Debates: The Pinnacle of American Political Theater

30 Sep

Shortly, we, the American zombies, will sit fastened to our televisions to watch the debates between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.  What we will really be seeing is the latest prime time event to arrive on the American media circuit (read: circus).  This is American theater at its best. 

There is no greater show on earth.  Nothing can be more choreographed to account for every step, smile, gesture, and pointed moment of challenge to his adversary.  Broadway actors could only hope to achieve such a level of preparedness and perfection in their own regular performances.  We will look on as both candidates take the stage and greet their opponent with a smile and a disingenuous “good luck.”  Each will wave and point to random members of the audience and mumble some muted, but ostensibly positive remarks.  (Most stage actors will likely notice that they are actually muttering, “peas and carrots, peas and carrots”). 

Each candidate will be careful to look and sound presidential.  Grey hairs will be meticulously dyed to signal wisdom and experience: emphasized at Romney’s sideburns and more evenly distributed around Obama’s head.  Body language will be cautiously scripted to accentuate moments of utter confidence; a finger point, a two-handed podium grab, a stare in the direction of the camera. 

Following the debate, some will sit back and watch folks like Frank Luntz (of Fox News) explain the graphs that indicate the relationship between zingers and their immediate impact on public opinion.  As is customary, the sound bites that will form the essence of campaign commercials until Election Day will be extracted at the close of the debates.  The Governor Rick Perryish, Dan Quayle-like and Joe Bidenesque ones will potentially sustain their opposite number in the polls.  The superior Bill Clintonian and Ronald Reaganian one-liners will likely enter and remain in the collective American memory.  The best ones will become popular bumper stickers. 

Campaign promises such as “Read my lips” and “close Guantanamo” will roll smoothly from their mouths.  They will be designed to mollycoddle the American voter with the oft-absent sense of sincerity that characterizes political campaigns.  Each candidate will attempt to construct a demonic image of his opponent: Romney is a capitalist cannibal, Obama a socialist ideologue.  The message: “I’m the beneficent, and he the maleficent.” 

Let the performances commence.  Let the average American audience feel warm and tingly as their favorite entertainer earns the electoral Oscar.  In the end, likeability is king.  A credible message will be more readily received by the actor who best combines his talents of persuasion, while deflecting the other’s criticism with wit, humor, and the confidence of Captain Sulley Sullenberger.  So recline and relax, or revel and clap at the magic of the showstoppers.  For this is American theater at its best folks!

Occupying the Narrative: Why Class Warfare is a Winning Tactic

23 Sep

As the pending U.S. presidential election moves along its campaign path toward the finish line, the issue of candidate income levels is becoming more of a palpable pivoting point.  That is, the underlying effort to paint the other candidate as more out of touch with the common voter, as being in direct proportion to their wealth, has once again become salient.  This is not a new debate.  Nor is it a new tactic of the American left.

It is common knowledge that at least half of all members of the House and Senate are in the category of the one percent that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) “occupiers” and their sympathizers seek to castigate.  According to this logic, as candidate Mitt Romney’s income level becomes the big issue for the political left he is out of touch.  So why is it that Americans (and perhaps others) find it so appalling when others do well for themselves?  The answer likely has something to do with underdogma.

Underdogma is a term (and a book title) coined by Michael Prell.  It references the instinct to cast those who “have” in a villainous light, whereas their opposite numbers must be the “have not” victim class.  With near automaticity, scorn is heaped upon those who seem richer, more powerful, and more privileged at the expense of others.  It enables the many to paint the few as controlling and unlike the common person.  It seems to be the guiding logic of liberals, which would explain why OWS receives much less condemnation from the left.  Democrats cannot afford to abandon them.  They lend the most credence to the entitlement philosophy: “give us free stuff.”  It makes sense that the U.S. Capitol building is not more occupied than a park in lower Manhattan.

According to the underdogmatic approach to economics, Mitt Romney is more evil than Barack Obama.  Therefore, this one percenter is not worthy of leading a nation of ninety-nine percenters.  So far, it seems the logic remains intact, and the tactic remains successful.

The Obama Administration Must Reinforce Words with Deeds

9 Sep

In a recent Huffington Post Op-Ed (29 August 2012), Alan Dershowitz had opined that although President Obama is committed to the “preventive military option” he faces a credibility gap between his declaratory statements and what the Iranian regime believes will transpire.  The “faction” within the Obama camp that sees little use for military action sustains this gap, according to Dershowitz.  In their view, “saber rattling” is an impediment to peace.  Intuitively, they are correct.  In reality, they are not.  Here is why: credibility hinges on demonstrable force factors.

If Iran (and even Israel) believe that the force of the American President’s bellicose words are sapped by domestic ideological opposition, both are inclined to disbelieve what they hear.  The only way to mend such a fissure is to act with more credibility than one’s target state is hearing in one’s rhetoric.  To supplement words with deeds grants one’s opponent the opportunity to reassess their own message decoder.  If, however, words and deeds are in stark contradiction then the ambiguity (whether accidental or intentional) may be perceived as domestic dissonance, consequently revealing a potential noncommittal posture.

So, what is the United States actually doing (or failing to do)?  Perhaps it is best to view purely military actions as either helpful or unhelpful in reinforcing the credibility of one’s attendant verbal expression.  On the former, it has recently been reported that the American Navy is increasing its presence in both the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.  This fact would be a clear example of American resolve.  The Iranian response of an intent to deploy its own naval forces to the Atlantic is not (“Iran Reiterates Resolve to Anchor Off US Coasts.” FARS News Agency 5 September 2012).

On the other side of the U.S. credibility ledger, a recent U.S.-Israeli joint naval operation, Reliant Mermaid (reported by the BBC and Jerusalem Post 20 August 2012), was focused on “search and rescue.”  As this was not specifically geared in the direction of offensive action, it should not be counted as credibility enhancing.  Another recent American-Israeli venture, Operation Austere Challenge 12, might have been a more credibility-boosting maneuver if the American headcount hadn’t been severely reduced by the U.S. Pentagon (as reported on 31 August 2012 in Time online, “Exclusive: U.S. Scales Back Military Exercise with Israel, Affecting Potential Iran Strike”).  This is an unfortunate exercise in credibility diminution.

Perhaps the disparity between word and deed are part of a conscious effort to de-couple American and Israeli action versus Iran.  Whatever the merits of such a policy preference, there are sure to be signals and indices that suggest that a chasm between allies is open for exploitation.  Further, a degraded U.S. commitment is tantamount to wavering.  For deterrence to work the Iranian regime must conclude that the cost of developing nuclear weapons far outweighs their purported benefits.  In order to influence their calculus the regime’s survival must be in jeopardy.

Kenneth Waltz believes that deterrence would stick if Iran became a nuclear state in his recent article, “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb” (Foreign Affairs, Jul/Aug2012, Vol. 91 Issue 4, p2-5).  His assertion rests on a history of U.S.-Soviet nuclear peace.  Unfortunately, he conflates the logic of states that already possess the doomsday weapons with that of those who are fixated on procuring them for messianic and annihilative purposes.

The most plausible American fear likely consists of a nuclear-armed Iran forcing the U.S. to remove its military from the region, thus having the effect of Iranian regional domination.  The impact of this potentiality does not rest well with Iran’s Arab adversaries.  For Israel, this scenario presents a palpable existential threat, as they are a ‘one-bomb country’ (as Charles Krauthammer has recently pointed out in his 30 August 2012 Washington Post opinion article, “The ‘Deterrence Works’ Fantasy”).

In order to deter an Israeli preemptive/preventive attack, the Obama administration must combine both words and deeds in an effort to convince both friend and foe of American steadfastness.  To fail in this regard is to welcome misinterpretation, misperception and possibly grave misfortune.

Fear: the language of Iran

8 Sep

Most would say that the regime of Ahmadinejad speaks Persian Farsi.  Insofar as linguistics are concerned this is true.  However, there is another language that is spoken, and apparently well understood in that part of the world: Fear.  As any Iranian expatriate could easily recount, the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was successful in instilling a fear of speaking, acting, dressing, or otherwise appearing Western.  Beyond xenophobic fear was that of the terror conveyed for noncompliance with the new regime’s take on piety.   

            During the demonstrations against the Iranian government in 2009, the citizens were again reminded that their protestations on behalf of democracy had limitations rooted in theocracy.  The regime succeeded in its endeavor to repress, thereby reinforcing through violence that dissent would not be tolerated. 

            The language of fear is not only spoken in Iran, it is exported for global consumption.  Witness Hezbollah’s ability to perform acts of terrorism worldwide and Iran’s impunity in having made significant contributions to them.  Observe the demonstrated conventional power of a small army to force Israel to acknowledge that they are a force to be reckoned with (2006).  Behold the message inherent in the Iranian warships’ passing unmolested through the Suez Canal to deliver aid to the Assad regime’s tyrannical and murderous efforts in Syria.  These are the hallmarks of the diplomacy of violence, the broadcasting mechanism of fear.

            As Iran’s regime is currently attempting to subvert international will and acquire nuclear weapons they have invoked the language of fear yet again.  In calling for the annihilation of another nation-state, they seem to believe that such a bullying tactic will bear fruit of the sort that characterized their regime’s domestic successes. 

Bullies need a victim that is incapable of mounting a formidable defense.  This is where the language of fear loses its power.  The only way to tie the tongue of the fear-speaker is to demonstrate one’s ability to speak more eloquently and forcefully.  As the foreign policy question of responding to fear speak is raised more frequently, the answer could perhaps be found in the ability to hold a bullhorn to the Iranian regime’s ears and proclaim that its language is dead.  In turn, perhaps the Iranian citizenry will have their voices heard in the language of freedom.

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5 Aug

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