Presidential Election Campaigns: Substance or Entertainment?


Edmond Azadian

Edmond Azadian

Presidential Election Campaigns: Substance or Entertainment?

By Edmond Y. Azadian

We are more than a year away from the presidential election in the US, but the campaign is already in full blast.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton began her campaign when she left Foggy Bottom as secretary of state. Some pundits even believe that she never quit campaigning after she ceded the Democratic nomination grudgingly to Barack Obama. Perhaps that was also the reason that her early campaign hit some turbulence; her use of a private server for her official emails continues to haunt her to this day. Her mishandling of the Libya fiasco and her support of the Iraq war have dented her popularity and have undermined her trustworthiness.

As far as her hawkish stand regarding foreign policy is concerned, she can hardly be distinguished from Sen. John McCain. She seems to be completely beholden to the military industrial complex. Even more worrisome is that she seems beholden to the polls rather than genuine ideals.

Should she win her bid for the White House, the Middle East will not enjoy any peace and the two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, which President Obama is trying to seal before his term is up, will suffer a setback for another four or even eight years.

That is why now she is trying to divert attention to other talking points in her campaign, including finance reform or women’s issues or race issues (“Black Lives Matter”).

In the Democratic camp, most of the declared candidates — Lincoln Chafee, Lawrence Lessing, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb — are no match for Mrs. Clinton in terms of fundraising. Vice President Joe Biden is still testing the terrain but as soon as he gets his feet wet, he will realize that this year’s campaign is for the sharks and not a gentle figure like him.

As far as the Clinton campaign is concerned, her only serious challenger seems to be Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont who holds a steady lead over her in New Hampshire polls. Mr. Sanders is after big banks, trade deals, tax breaks for the rich and “super PACs” like the ones pouring money into Mrs. Clinton’s campaign. When Sanders declared his candidacy several months ago, he seemed like a long-shot. After all, Sanders does not do sound bites, he is an intellectual and a policy wonk trying to fix the incredibly lop-sided economy of the US.

The irony is that he is not from the rank and files of the Democratic party; he is a registered socialist and an outsider to the party’s mainstream, much like Donald Trump — his very opposite in every way — is in the Republican camp.

During the first Republican debate, Trump was still toying with the idea of running as an independent candidate, sending shivers down the spines of the GOP bigwigs. Ross Perot and Ralph Nader before him had played as spoilers. But after his pledge of allegiance to the Republican party, his popularity is soaring and he seems to be within the shooting distance for the party’s nomination, to the chagrin of the GOP establishment.

The huge roster of Republican candidates offers few morsels for non-partisans. After all, they are competing with each other to proclaim their faith in God, aversion to abortion, oblivion regarding climate change and evolution and ignorance of other nations.

During the recent September 16 Republican candidates’ debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, hosted by CNN and moderated by the network’s Jake Tapper, the candidates showed just what the party can offer the masses.

Behind the candidates, a replica of Air Force One dominated the stage and certainly each candidate must have imagined himself or herself flying aboard it to reach the White House.

The debate was more entertaining than substantive. The candidates were competing with each other to spit out their prepared sound bites for maximum effect. Of course, the focus was on businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump, who is known for cracking jokes, sometimes creating awkward situations. This time around, he was relatively subdued. When asked about his derogatory comments regarding candidate Carly Fiorina’s appearance, instead of apologizing, he jumped the gun and said, “She is a beautiful woman.” But that sounded more sarcastic than apologetic. And again, he missed the point of treating Fiorina like any other candidate rather than an objectified woman, on whose appearance he is entitled to comment, whether favorably or not.

Similarly, there was an awkward situation when he was asked to comment on his statement that Jeb Bush has been influenced by his Mexican-born wife to be soft on the immigration issue. Trump did not respond to Bush’s invitation to apologize to his wife.

One area which distinguished Mr. Trump from his Republican rivals — who were ready to tear up the Iran nuclear deal and bomb the world — was that he said while he was for a strong militaristic America, he would give a chance to diplomacy first (like Rand Paul).

However, his moderation did not help to avoid a scathing characterization by the New York Times columnist David Brooks, who wrote, “His ego may be galaxy-sized, but this policy ignorance is a void that overspills the known universe. He is the Wizard of Oz. When the bluster curtain falls down, what’s left is pathetic.”

Mr. Brooks is equally unmerciful towards the one segment of the Republican party whose comments boil down to a few negative policy positions, which are summed up in the following statement: “One group wants to rip up the political process and disrupt everything. Renounce the Iran deal on Day 1, no matter what our allies say. Ignore the Supreme Court and effectively disallow gay marriage. Shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood. Magically deport the 11 million illegal immigrants. …

“The others, like Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and Jeb Bush, live within the confines of reality.”

This, of course, is as far as domestic policy is concerned. On foreign policy, they mostly agreed on a hawkish philosophy, to boost American military power and talk to the rest of the world with the butt of the gun. Rand Paul stood alone in opposing that trigger-happy philosophy.

Senators Marco Rubio and Ted  Cruz, both descendants of Cuban immigrants, tried to out-American their non-Hispanic rivals. Fiorina, who may have won a few points on her dramatic presentation on abortion, stated that the first day in the White House, she would call Benyamin Netanyahu of Israel, assure him of America’s support and then threaten the mullahs of Iran. This kind of servility does not surprise the public any more, when a candidate puts a foreign nation’s interests — no matter how friendly — above the US. There were other candidates tripping over themselves to address the Israeli lobby rather than the listeners, including Cruz and Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas. The latter sounded more like George Bush, who held the Bible and created mayhem in Iraq, with one million civilian casualties and 4,500 US military deaths, not to mention the two trillion dollars of wasted money.

Ted Cruz did not miss the opportunity to send a message to the gun lobby.

Another child of immigrants, Piyush “Bobby” Jindal, a Rhodes Scholar who studied at Oxford (declining acceptances to Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School), would rather cut the budget for Louisiana schools and break teachers’ unions.

Jeb Bush had a complacent attitude with body language which indicated that he already has a lock on the nomination through dynastic entitlement. (Interestingly, he shares that posture with Democrat rival Clinton.) But he was startled when the moderator asked him why he says he wants to be his own man, yet he has assembled his brother’s advisors, the neocon cabal of Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and others, who ignited all the devastating wars.

Mr. Bush was not able to answer directly, as he was caught off guard.

Almost all candidates tried to enumerate their achievements and their plans to rebuild America. They also had disparaging remarks about President Obama, despite the improvement in the economy, the passage of the Affordable Care Act which has given millions healthcare and his foreign policy victories in Cuba and Iran through negotiations rather than weaponry.

As entertaining as the debate was, the thought that one of those on the stage might actually become president and have the fate of the people of this country and even the world in the palm of his or her hand was chilling.

The majority of immigrant Armenians used to vote solidly Democratic. As their economic status improved, the majority has switched to the Republican camp. Of course, as any other citizens, Armenians have to vote with their consciences and their pocketbooks. But it helps to have our hands in both parties, in an organized way.

Many US citizens — including those who are naturalized — do not see nor care what their elected officials do in planning America’s foreign policy. But Armenians, like the Jews, need to be vigilant. When we vote for warmongers, they spread devastation in regions where Armenians live and the community’s safety is in jeopardy. Beware also those candidates who plan to send the specter of war to the regions Armenia is located.

We will be witnessing more entertaining debates. But let us think soberly when we are ready to vote.