The Republican Debate:
Last night millions of people across the nation tuned in to watch the final Republican debate of 2015. On the stage were nine individuals vying for the chance to become the President of the United States. In homes across this nation Americans watched and listened in the hopes of a specific candidate reaching out to them, speaking to their concerns and beliefs or solidifying a position of strength in order to lead this nation.
Unfortunately, in many other homes millions of people tuned in to “watch the show”. Some people were waiting to see who went on the attack, got the best one liners or effectively insulted the other candidates with the most vigor and vitriol. I know people don’t like to admit it but it happens all the time. When people drive past a car wreck many of them rubberneck as long as possible in the hopes of seeing the aftermath or watch NASCAR racing hoping for that great big wreck in turn 2. Recent debates did not disappoint and this final debate of 2015 was sure to live up to the hype.
I watched the debate for a different reason. I watched the debate in the hopes that certain candidates would finally take a step forward and answer the tough questions. I watched in the hopes that real problems would get real answers and the sideshow would take second stage. I watched to see how these candidates would answer questions about moral authority, use of force and international diplomacy in the face of some of the toughest issues a President could ever face.
There are many issues facing the next President of the United States. Issues at home and abroad are intricately linked and cannot be resolved with broad strokes of a pen or bombastic declarations of intent that could never come to pass. The issues we face as a country are difficult not only because they divide us domestically and internationally but because many of the proposed solutions put forth on the campaign trail would have dramatic and lasting consequences on the world, our country and our citizens.
The powder keg currently comprised of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya may be the biggest challenge the world has faced since WW2. Between Assad, ISIS, Russia and Iran we stand at the brink of a disastrous future. Defeating ISIS is a lot like blowing out those candles that relight themselves, or cutting the heads off of the mythical Hydra. Each time we snuff out some part of ISIS or one of their leaders another springs up into its place. Each victory comes at the cost of more recruits pouring into the region to take up the Caliphate. The nature of their movement creates issues because contrary to some of our Republican candidate’s opinions we cannot carpet bomb cities full of innocent civilians or systematically target the families of people we believe (or even know) are linked to ISIS.
The United States derives much of its power across the globe from a position of moral authority. We are a democratic nation of laws that, generally speaking, follows international laws and treaties governing specific methods of conducting war and the treatment of prisoners as well as civilians in war zones. To simply turn our back on international laws and treaties is not only completely ludicrous, but it places our soldiers and our country as a whole in the same boat as those that are committing acts of terror against us. I know the “Golden Rule” sounds like the perfect medicine for ISIS, but at what cost? Do we as a nation feel that ISIS is important and capable enough of an enemy to compel our nation to sacrifice our moral objectivity?
I watched the events transpire in San Bernardino just like many others. I felt the pain, the anger and the frustration that many others felt. I was mortified that two people with very little knowledge and practically zero training were able to launch a horrific attack and kill 14 American citizens. I don’t feel however that this attack really changes anything in regards to how we conduct our anti-terror activities. Over the past several years we have had James Holmes and Adam Lanza wound and kill many more than we saw in San Bernardino, yet what changed after those attacks? Although they weren’t linked to ISIS they were still “terror attacks” in my opinion. Did anyone call for internment camps for mentally ill people? Did anyone scream for mandatory screening and surveillance on the friends and family of Americans taking anti-psychotic drugs? No, we didn’t do those things. James Holmes and Adam Lanza were viewed by many as “one offs” or exceptions to the general rule. Why then do we allow two people that decided to link themselves to Jihad decide the moral and legal future of this nation?
Believe me, I want the terror attacks to be thwarted. I want the perpetrators caught before they attack and I want our citizens to feel safe in this country. Carpet bombing Syria and targeting innocent civilians will not accomplish these goals. Changing the very nature of our country is not a way to win, it is a way to guarantee that we lose.
Syria, Assad, Iran and Russia:
The quadruple threat presented by Syria as a whole, Assad, Iran and Russia is one that scares the hell out of me. Some of the positions staked out by the candidates at last night’s debate however make the whole situation one hell of a lot scarier. This is not a simple issue with a one and done solution. The threats posed by these actors combined as well as individually could very well occupy the mind of the next President throughout his or her first four years in office and beyond. The connection that these nations and leaders have to each other run deep and involve everything from military and economic ties to ideological and global influence. Our next President cannot take action on any of these threats without invoking a response from their partners waiting in the wings. Singular actions such as ignoring Vladimir Putin, “punching” Putin in the nose or shooting down Russian planes for violating no fly zones that Russia doesn’t recognize are not answers. These are sound bytes, and dangerous ones to boot. Deposing Assad sounds like a great idea and that theory has worked so well in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Egypt and Iran. Lets kill or depose this tyrant and effectively remove ALL command and control for the entire region. To what end? Do we truly believe that we could help place someone in power that would be any better or more acceptable to the civilian population there? Russia MUST be involved in the placement of a new leader in Syria. Are we truly supposed to believe that Vladimir Putin will tuck tail and run if the United States threatens him or antagonizes him?
Russia, and Putin in particular, is not afraid of the United States. This isn’t new and it isn’t “because of Obama”. Putin has never feared the United States because Putin is a communist hardliner that knows his very power is derived from the image of being unafraid. Backing down from the threat of US intervention anywhere would not just spell a political defeat for Putin, it would spell political death and possibly death for real. Russia has not recently emerged from under the blankets shaking in fear of George Bush. Russia has emerged from debilitating financial collapse through trade in energy and sales of weapons and technology. Russia wasn’t cowering and waiting for Bush to leave office they were rebuilding and adapting to a different world. The assault on Ukraine and the taking of Crimea weren’t to test America’s resolve, they were to showcase Russia’s strength. Crimea provides a strategic port, has a large pro-Russia population and when push comes to shove Putin knew that the US would not see real value in escalating conflict to free a group of people that most likely don’t give a damn one way or the other.
Putin’s resolve in Syria and Iran are different matters altogether. Syria and Assad provide Putin with ties to the middle east and potentially strategic locations for Russian forces. Putin’s open disdain for all things American and support of Iran and Syria provide him with a small amount of camouflage from attacks by Muslim extremists (not ISIS) and his willingness to “assist” with the war on ISIS gives him some international credibility. The main areas where Putin has advantages however are in the energy business. If Russia can keep Assad in power and end the civil war there is Syrian oil that from which he can tap or reap some profit. If Russia can defeat ISIS then he has freedom of movement in Syria giving him positions from which he can hit targets throughout the region if necessary and provide additional defensive measures for Iran when needed. Russia has a HUGE economic investment in Iran. The potential for further economic advancements in the region improves if Putin can clearly support and defend those agreements when needed. This projection of forces changes the entire dynamic for a region that relies in great part on the United States for air defense.
As I stated before, dealing with these issues is not possible with a broad stroke approach. The simplest, and most likely to succeed, is direct diplomacy with Vladimir Putin himself. If we can figure out a way to give Putin some of what he wants with the conditions that we want, the “win/win” scenario of the two biggest bullies on the block spells the demise of all of the people riding the coat tails. What does this agreement look like? Who the hell knows? I can tell you though, a shitty agreement between Russia and the United States is better than our current Iran deal, better than Assad staying in power in Syria and better than ISIS rolling through the middle east unchecked. Ignoring Putin or “punching” him in the nose aren’t going to get us there. Diplomacy gets us there.
Contrary to some people, I believe the economy has improved in the last eight years. Unemployment is down according to traditional metrics, Americans are consuming at a higher level while still paying off more debt and reducing their credit as a whole, gas prices are lower at the moment and our deficit has been reduced dramatically. I know some people have different opinions there and I won’t argue whether or not mine are more correct than yours. Mark Twain once said “Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable” and I believe that holds very true when considering the current state of our nation. If you hate certain politicians or follow specific media organizations you will most likely lean to their statistical views. Unfortunately, the media organizations in today’s 24 hour news cycle tend to discount facts when they are in opposition to the organization’s political views. This happens with both liberal and conservative organizations, please don’t even act like it doesn’t. I base my opinions on what I see every day. I base it on how far my paycheck goes and the increase or decrease in job postings relevant to my profession. Yes, I understand that the Sequester program has caused some of the results and that those results must be viewed through a wide lens in regards to their effects on things like defense spending and such, but I also remember that the Sequester was not to be viewed as a solution, but instead as a consequence to a broken political system that was hell bent on disagreeing and not willing to compromise.
No matter how you view the current state of the economy, it still needs improvement. Whether we see a Democrat or a Republican being sworn in after the election doesn’t really matter in regards to what we need, only what we get. As of yet I have not heard very many plans coming from the candidates in regards to rebuilding our economy. The plans I have heard are either non-starters like defunding Obamacare or lack any real specifics like “we’ll create jobs”. Defunding Obamacare sounds like a great deal to a lot of people. However, there are more than 16 million Americans currently enrolled in this program that either need to have affordable insurance provided in another manner or will lose all insurance coverage period. Contrary to popular belief, not all of these people are “losers” and “deadbeats”. Many of these people are children, single mothers, low wage earners and employees of small businesses. I do not accept the idea that as a nation we would readily throw people under the bus and leave them for dead. If you want to defund Obamacare that’s fine, but you need to come up with a plan to replace it or fix it before you turn people’s lives upside down. In regards to jobs, give me specifics. Are these infrastructure projects? Energy based projects? Workshare programs? Or are you simply implying that because you are President companies around the country will just start hiring again? Come to me with a plan, not a sound byte.
I pay my taxes. I don’t cheat and I don’t hide income. Do I enjoy paying taxes? Hell no! Who in their right mind does? Do I think it is necessary to pay taxes? Unfortunately, yes I do. I utilize the resources that my tax dollars provide, such as roads, police and fire protection, communication and military defense. There are TONS more areas that our country and our states provide services from taxes generated from income and when used properly, the system CAN work. However, the incorrect application of ANY system will always generate unfavorable results. Our tax dollars are wasted, squandered and gifted to corporations all day long in a never ending cycle of greed and political manipulation. Our tax dollars are used to pay debts that were incurred not by ourselves, but by our government’s decisions to put our nation in debt for a multitude of failed policies and activities. I didn’t vote to go to war in Iraq or Afghanistan. I didn’t vote for billions of dollars in tax loopholes and concessions to multi-billion dollar corporations. I didn’t vote to bail out banks and investment brokers. I was never given the opportunity to voice my concerns or register my complaints. Looking to blame someone for our tax debts? Blame our political system for the past 80 years, not the most recent administration. Blaming President Obama for a problem that has existed since before he was born isn’t going to do anything to fix the issue. Is President Obama without blame? HELL NO! But dropping the blame stick at his feet and acting like this problem didn’t exist before 2008 is the definition of absurdity.
Immigration is another big sticky subject for our next President. On this issue there are a lot of different views between the candidates, well, some of them. A few of the candidates have offered lip service opinions but no real plans or ideas while others have come out with decidedly differing plans and programs. These ideas run the gambit from “kick’em all out” to “amnesty” programs intended to provide a pathway to citizenship. While I won’t pretend to be completely knowledgeable of all of the differing platforms and current legislation, I define my opinion based on what I feel this country was meant to be, not only to its citizens, but to the world.
“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
America was founded, peopled and defended by immigrants and the descendants of immigrants. My family immigrated from England to “the colonies” in 1650, settling in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Immigrating to a country 126 years before it became a country probably makes me a “native son” of America in the truest sense yet I still feel that my family is born of immigrants. My wife’s family came to America only two generations before her birth, relatively recent compared to mine, yet they are no less American than I am. I have a few friends whose parents immigrated to the United States shortly before they were born, again, they are no less American than I am having been born here. Still yet I have friends that were born in a multitude of other countries and then immigrated here, lived and worked in this country and became naturalized citizens or are in the process of doing so. Are they less American than I am?
“American” is not necessarily based on your place of birth or your current citizenship. “American” has more to do with your beliefs and dreams than the address of your birth. Yes, there are legal definitions of “American” that contradict this sentiment but I have met MANY people in my life born and raised within the borders of this country that I would never, in a million years, consider “American”. One of the shooters in San Bernardino was born here, an American citizen. Until he became radicalized into a belief system contrary to our own he was probably just as American as everyone else. Remember James Holmes and Adam Lanza mentioned before? Born here. Raised here.
There are millions of Americans, born here and raised here, whose parents entered this country illegally decades ago. Many of these children have gone to school and graduated college. Many are upstanding citizens and leaders in our communities. This is not an excuse not to deport people, this is a reason to consider the ramifications of labeling entire groups of our population as “criminals and rapists” in order to dominate the news cycle and inspire hateful rhetoric. We need to understand that in ANY large group of people you have individuals, and individuals are not necessarily representative of the group as a whole. Have you ever gone somewhere and witnessed a large group of people doing something completely idiotic? Have you ever said, “Wow, look at all these morons!” while NOT including yourself in that group? Guess what, someone watching from a distance said the same thing, but that person WAS including you, because you were in that group too.
It is a completely fair statement to say that within the group of millions of undocumented immigrants in this country there are criminals and rapists. Statistically speaking, you would not be lying. However, if a sex offender moves into your neighborhood does that mean your neighborhood is “full of damn sex offenders”? No, it doesn’t. It means there is one bad apple in the bunch and you need to deal with that individual, not that person and all of the neighbors together.
We need immigration reform. We need to control our border and know who is coming in and who is coming out. We need a path to citizenship for people that want to be Americans, not just live here or work here. I do believe that the path to citizenship should include a mandatory fluency in English before citizenship is granted and I do believe that citizenship here should require renouncing citizenship to any other country. I do believe in extensive background checks and investigation into people applying for citizenship and I do believe in setting the bar high in order to bring in the people that will truly become contributors to the betterment of this nation.
I do not believe in a shotgun approach to ruining families, uprooting children and destroying communities because a bunch of people that have been here for three or four decades swam a river and ducked a fence to get here illegally if those people have been productive citizens that have not committed any other crimes. I don’t believe we should continue to allow these activities, and controlling the border is a big step in the right direction to stop them. My opinion? For those that meet the criteria of having been here for longer than 15 years and have committed no crimes we have a moratorium. If you cannot prove your time here, you have to leave and come back legally.
Domestic and International Surveillance and Control:
In the last election cycle one of the biggest points of contention was NSA surveillance on American citizens. Republicans and Democrats alike agreed for the most part that over reach by the NSA was a clear violation of the Constitution of the United States and no manner of security or threat should be used to advocate suspension of those liberties. Fast forward to last night when NEARLY all of the candidates were suddenly more than okay with NSA programs. There was talk of infiltrating facebook and twitter accounts, tapping phones and even “breaking encryption” in order to fight the swarms of jihadist terrorists now crossing our open borders en masse.
Only one person stood with his convictions in this matter. Rand Paul proudly cited the existence of a heretofore undiscovered and little known document called the Constitution. He evoked it’s name once more when Donald Trump suggested we toss out Freedom of Speech by “shutting down that Internet thing“. Of course, not to be corrected, The Donald later clarified his statement by saying we would shut down the Internet in other countries, not our own, after explaining multiple times we need to shut down our Internet to terrorists in America. Apparently Mr. Trump has yet to hire an adviser to tell him how the Internet functions.
We also got a treat last night when Carly Fiorina explained that one thing we need to do to fight ISIS is to “break their encryption“. I would suggest to Mrs. Fiorina that when Mr. Trump hires his Internet adviser she should ask to sit in on a few sessions regarding network and data security and how it works. Then both of them can attend some community college courses on why both of these ideas are not only terrible but why the private sector would probably have a really hard time agreeing to help them in the matter. There is also the minor problem of how the NSA, CIA, FBI and US Military may feel about it. For those that have even the basest form of knowledge in these areas, reach out to these campaigns and offer your services, Trump probably pays pretty well. For everyone else, please let me explain…
“Shutting down” portions of the Internet is not that easy. China and North Korea can do it because they built the networks with that type of control in mind from the beginning. In the civilized world the networks were built to be robust and redundant, so shutting down portions on purpose is just not a very easy task. The bigger issue is that doing this is a violation of our Constitution. In recent years Internet traffic has fallen under the protection of Freedom of Speech. We are allowed to say what we want and read what we want. Any impingement upon that freedom is a violation of those rights. Developing a program or “algorithm” as Mrs. Fiorina puts it that can manage this task would almost certainly be a concern for those that are entrusted with National Security.
Then there is the idea that we need to break the encryption ISIS uses for communications. Again, this is a sound byte. As a former CEO of Hewlett Packard I would have thought Mrs. Fiorina would have at least a limited knowledge of encryption. To put it bluntly, the NSA can’t break 128 bit encryption, at least not yet. Suggesting that simply by saying “hey, let’s do this!” we are suddenly going to make a massive leap forward in cryptography is stupefying. Not to mention the fact that “breaking encryption” has MASSIVE ramifications not only for ISIS but for commercial business, the military, our allies and EVERYONE else in the world relying on encryption to conduct business. “Breaking encryption” doesn’t mean you solved a single email or can now read chats on a certain application. “Breaking encryption” means BREAKING ENCRYPTION. All of it. Everywhere. Sure, some would take longer simply based on the level of encryption, but the algorithm used would basically be the same. Do we really think this would be allowed to happen with these types of results? Our military communications no longer secure? Our banking systems completely vulnerable? I don’t think the private sector is going to be very quick to jump on the bandwagon and help out on this one.
I did feel that this debate had more substance than the previous debates. Yes, the attacks and finger pointing and one liners were in full force, but at least we got to hear about some of the plans and issues. I do wish the debate format would change and we could cut the microphones off if people won’t shut up, but they would never agree to that. Below I am listing each candidate and how I feel they performed. This is completely my opinion, you are free to disagree. I would appreciate it if you would not attack me if my opinions differ from yours, after all, they are OPINIONS.
Carly Fiorina – D+
Carly needs to pack it in. If the GOP wasn’t so scared to alienate female voters should wouldn’t have been on the stage last night. She brings nothing to the debate except an ability to attack Hillary Clinton without being called sexist. Her record at HP was terrible and she ran that company into the ground. Go away, Carly. Go away.
John Kasich – C-
I want to like John Kasich, I really do. He has some great ideas and he has a solid background in Ohio, but he has no business running for President. If I were him I would be looking to the eventual winners for a position in their cabinet because the nomination is just not in his future.
Ted Cruz – C
Ted Cruz is scary to me. He scares me because he has a lot of political backing and it is growing recently. He scares me because he’s smart and has a loyal base. Mostly he scares me because I think his ideas on how to run this country are dangerous and he seems to have this Jim Jones kind of hold on some people. He had a couple of good answers last night but mainly I can’t trust anything the man says, ever.
Ben Carson – C
Ben Carson had a couple of moments of lucidity last night that I applauded. His answer to the loaded question about “killing innocent women and children” in Syria was probably his best moment of the campaign. I don’t believe he has the staying power to continue his campaign and will probably back out soon. He’s a nice guy and a smart guy, he’s just not “the guy”.
Rand Paul – B+
I feel like this was Rand’s best performance. He expanded on his answers to provide understanding of his views and his knowledge of the information was clear. He was able to get a couple of good shots in regarding the US Constitution and show that the “sound byte” claims made by some candidates were not only false, but illegal and unlikely to ever come to fruition. I would have liked to see Rand use his followup opportunities more often because he tends to fade into the background during the debates. I think Rand Paul has some very important things to add to this debate, and I hate that he has not performed well.
Chris Christie – C
This is another one that I wanted to like. Chris comes off MOST of the time as being very American and interested in doing the right thing. The problem is that the rest of the time he comes off as pandering to people’s fears and memories of 9/11 for political gain. I don’t know much about his record as Prosecutor or Governor, but I don’t get the sense that he would make a very good President.
Donald Trump – C-
I considered leaving “The Donald” out of this review because I figure if anyone’s going to sue me for defamation, he’s the guy. When Donald Trump joined the race I told people it was a trick. I figured his entire goal would be to join as a Republican and burn the house down from the inside. He was going to make wild accusations and crazy proclamations to make Republicans look bad and they would kick him out. Then people started voting for him in polls and it got worse. I thought to myself “he’s going to take down the whole GOP from the inside”. Part of me still thinks that is the goal, but part of me also thinks this dude might actually think he can get elected. I know he can accomplish the first part, I hope he can’t accomplish the second part. In regards to campaign content he has no answers that provide information, just brash general statements and childish attacks.
Jeb Bush – B+
I like that Jeb Bush finally went through with his promise to be tough with Trump. I think he fared well and his ability to fight back brought the microphone back to him enough times to get some good responses to questions and answers on actual policy and plans. In regards to being “electable” I think Jeb will rise in the polls and surpass most of the other people on the campaign trail once real voters start weighing in at the polls. I do believe Jeb has a much better understanding of what the actual job of the POTUS really is and how the political system works, which places him at the top of the card in my opinion.
Marco Rubio – B+
Polish and passion were the words of the day once again for Marco Rubio. He knows how to work a crowd, knows how to answer a question and knows when to smile. His policies have merit and his understanding of the political machine in Washington, even though he is still relatively young, is very good. I think the biggest thing I like about Rubio is his willingness to compromise to get things done. After years of stalemate in Congress we need someone willing to reach across the aisle, not a dictator working with warring factions.