Tag Archives: American Elections

Obamacare & New Democrat Political Dilemmas

If the mainstay of the debate surrounding the forthcoming American presidential elections centres on Obamacare, the  President will not be staying in the White House for a second term.

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Romney Obamacare

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n what seemed to add insult to injury the Democrats trounced the Republicans, 18-5, in the 75th annual Congressional Baseball game in Washington last night. Chants of ‘We won healthcare!’ from the Democratic staffers and supporters at Nationals Park echoed through the stadium, referencing the largely favorable Supreme Court ruling on the Obamacare law earlier that day. For a moment, the energy felt like the massive electoral victories of 2006 or 2008. While supporters of the law and President should indeed celebrate the Court’s ruling, they should also be cautious and consider some unintended political consequences that could arise:

  • The win could be an energizing factor for the Republican base in November. Democrats will have to carefully balance how they frame the victory while on the campaign trail. The country is sharply divided over the ruling as shown in a recent Gallup poll and many independents could be pushed away if the law is a central talking point. Republicans can easily be critical of the law and demand a repeal. Democrats need to avoid making November an effective referendum on the law.
  • Governor Romney will attempt to make the election a referendum on Obamacare. In his response to the ruling the presumptive Republican nominee said ‘What the court did not do on its last day in session, I will do on my first day if elected president of the United States. And that is I will act to repeal Obamacare.’  The Romney narrative is that ‘Obamacare’ is a tax hiking, deficit increasing, job killing, personally invasive law. This rhetoric doesn’t need to be true in order for it to be effective. If every Obama campaign stop is a retort to Romney’s claims and the defense of a law that the President expended substantial political capital to pass two years ago, it will eat up valuable time and resources that could be spent talking about other issues (job creation, counter-terrorism success, and Wall Street reform to name a few).
  • Key Senate races have become a lot more interesting. While the House can pass a repeal now it will most certainly stop in the Senate. The Republicans will frame the Senate (and the Presidency) as operating against the will of the people (true or not) and claim that controlling the upper house as central to removing the law. With vulnerable open seats in ND, WI, and VA and Senators Tester (MT), McCaskill (MO), and Nelson (FL) on the chopping block there is a substantial risk of the body turning red. While the Republicans will not gain a supermajority in the Senate (enough to overcome a filibuster), forcing a potential Senate Democratic minority to resort to a procedural road block to defend the law will push tensions to an all time high and will be extremely unpopular politically. The worst-case scenario for supporters of the law is moderate Democrats voting for repeal out of political fear.

Democrats should indeed be happy with the Court’s ruling however one must ask the question whether a negative decision on Obamacare would have made things easier in November. Democrats in sensitive districts will need to defend the law while simultaneously downplaying their support for it. The President is unable to downplay his support for the law but will need to balance his response to Romney’s attacks with the discussion of policy successes in other realms.  If the debate is focused around Obamacare, the President will lose.

Romney & Obama’s ‘Flexibility’

This latest microphone mishap has revealed more about Romney’s views on international affairs than about Obama’s post-election intentions.

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[dropcap]D[/dropcap]uring talks on missile defence in Seoul, South Korea last week, United States President Barack Obama was picked up by a microphone telling the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he will have ‘more flexibility’ to negotiate the issue of missiles after the US presidential elections this November.

Opponents of the Obama administration were quick to express their concern over the remark. In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney described the president’s remarks as ‘revealing’ and ‘alarming’, while fellow candidate Newt Gingrich asked in an interview with CNN: ‘how many other countries has the president promised that he will have a lot more flexibility the morning he doesn’t have to answer to the American people?’ However, while there may be genuine debate to be had over the extent to which Obama can expect more political freedom should he retain the presidency in November, these remarks are aimed more at generating a degree of anxiety and uncertainty.

While the White House maintained that progress on the issue of missile defence would be unlikely in an election year, the implications of Obama’s comments also sparked heated correspondence between Romney’s advisers and those of the Obama administration. In an open letter, foreign policy advisers to Romney suggested that Obama’s remarks were indicative of ‘weakness and inconstancy’, and asked the president to elaborate on what he had meant by the term ‘flexibility’. Despite this request, the letter appeared to rely on the ambiguity of the word in order to imply the president’s misleading policies and the uncertainty he would unleash were he to be re-elected. The letter provided numerous criticisms of the administration’s handling of various foreign policy issues, including Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Iran’s nuclear programme and the defence budget, applying the menacing and mysterious notion of post-election ‘flexibility’ to each instance. The following day, however, national security advisers within Obama’s re-election campaign wrote back, addressing Romney directly. In their response, the team addressed each of the issues raised by Romney’s advisers in detail, and posed a few critical questions of their own. They pointed out Romney’s lack of policy on Afghanistan, for example, and attacked his views on the United States’ relationship with Russia.

The latter criticism stems from Romney’s repeatedly hostile comments towards Russia, which he described as America’s ‘number one geopolitical foe’ in an interview with CNN. He reinforced this view in his article for Foreign Policy, stating that Moscow ‘has been a thorn in our side on questions vital to America’s national security.’ Romney has faced heat in this area not only from the Obama administration but also from Russia. President Medvedev has commented that this attitude ‘smells of Hollywood’, adding that ‘we are in 2012 and not the mid-1970s.’ While Romney’s historical interests appear to lie in the 1980s, as demonstrated by his recent enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan’s ‘peace through strength’ foreign policy, Medvedev’s assessment correctly identifies a considerable amount of animosity towards Russia expressed by Romney that has not characterised the Obama administration. In their letter, for example, Obama’s national security experts reiterated that ‘strategic cooperation with Russia is essential for countering the Iranian nuclear threat’, while the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has said that the US relationship with Russia allows differences to be discussed ‘candidly and openly’.

Both Romney’s campaign team and the Obama administration will undoubtedly continue to express their disagreement over this and other foreign policy issues as the presidential election draws closer. However, it appears that this latest microphone mishap has revealed more about Romney’s views on international affairs than about Obama’s post-election intentions.

Equality In The US Army: Santorum Has It All Wrong

One wonders if Mr. Santorum is actively inhibiting this natural instinct to protect women when he is formulating his stances on policies regarding our reproductive health.

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In the wake of the Pentagon’s announcement of a loosening of restrictions for female service-members last week, we were treated to Rick Santorum’s considered opinions on these matters.  Last week CNN asked him about his support for measures that might eventually allow women to serve in all combat positions. It wasn’t surprising that he opposed the idea, voicing his reticence to John King.

I do have concerns about women in front-line combat, I think that could be a very compromising situation, where people naturally may do things that may not be in the interest of the mission, because of other types of emotions that are involved. It already happens, of course, with the camaraderie of men in combat, but I think it would be even more unique if women were in combat, and I think that’s probably not in the best interest of men, women or the mission”

He called this behavior the “natural instinct to protect someone that’s a female.”  One wonders if Mr. Santorum is actively inhibiting this natural instinct to protect women when he is formulating his stances on policies regarding our reproductive health.

Santorum is arguing that when women are present on the battlefield it activates a male urge to engage in risky behavior in order protect them. This argument is a sneaky ploy; it’s the “it’s not about the women, it’s about the men” claim. At least, that’s what it is superficially. This argument side-steps trying to respond to the incredibly convincing evidence that women have proven their battlefield mettle repeatedly and instead goes for an assertion about male nature and military culture that embeds itself in social assumptions about gender not necessarily factual evidence.

Rick Santorum’s distaste for a mixing of the genders in combat is part of the broader “unit cohesion” argument, which has been similarly leveraged against the open service of lesbians and gays in the military. This is the sister argument to the original “men’s emotions will get the better of them” ploy. It says that the presence of women will serve as a distraction and weaken in the unit’s ability to carry out it’s mission and to function effectively as a whole. This argument is also a fear argument: the fear that women will destroy the sanctity of the masculine environment; that they will endanger their comrades perhaps by being overcome by their female emotions in a time of high stress. It is the presumption that some things are for men alone and that, for reasons that range from cultural to physical, women are simply incompatible with real combat. It is really a challenge to the idea of femininity on the battlefield.

Do women really make the battlefield more dangerous? Former Army Sergeant Kayla Williams, when interviewed on NPR early this week, said “I never saw that happen while I was deployed when we were in dangerous situations”.

Empirical evidence to support this idea of women posing threat to cohesiveness, as Megan Mackenzie has pointed out at the Duck of Minerva blog, is few and far between. A 1997 RAND study cited by Mackenzie found female inclusion to have little effect on unit effectiveness, readiness or morale. This body of research, and recent experience with mixed-gender units, has not seen the kind of unit cohesion breakdown that so many predict, and there are even reports that mixed units can be more effective.

There is one piece of evidence brought up frequently by detractors as proof that women and men cannot be mixed in combat for the reason that Santorum gives, that natural protection instinct. I’ve often seen people citing Israel as a model, saying that the Israeli Defense Force’s stance on gender integration was informed by knowledge of heightened male aggression and risk-taking in the face of an endangered woman. This is an interesting piece of evidence to consider, first because the Israeli army is highly integrated, preventing women from serving in only 12 percent of service positions and showing successes with mixed units, not to mention that it also drafts women. The IDF has operated like this since legislation in 2000 which followed a mid-1990s discrimination suit. It’s also interesting because this claim is never accompanied by a link to a broader report or study, yet remains considered to be unassailable fact.

A little research comes up with nothing on this front except for a 1996 book by a Lt. Col. Dave Grossman titled On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. In Chapter 4, he writes that:

“The Israelis have consistently refused to put women in combat since their experiences in 1948. I have been told by several Israeli officers that this is because in 1948 they experienced recurring incidences of uncontrolled violence among male Israeli soldiers who had had their female combatants killed and injured in combat, and because the Arabs were extremely reluctant to surrender to women.”

This support is shaky at best, referencing something much more casual and unscientific than an official report, and based on the military experiences of 64 years ago. After finding this, I consider it safe to largely dismiss the claim in the face of other more recent and relevant experiences, like those of Kayla Williams, and the contrary findings of actual studies.

Rick Santorum’s argument sounds convincing at first, and has won him countless nods of agreement. Rhetorically attractive as it may be, the argument is specious and remains centered more on cultural misconceptions of both gender and of the military than it does solid fact or researched evidence.