Thursday, August 13, 2015

The GOP debate

The first GOP Presidential debate occurred last week while I was on vacation.  That particular night, I was by myself, so while I watched much of the debate, I didn't see it all as I was free to channel hop.
Afterwards, while discussing the debate, a friend of mine asked me if I was going to post something about it.  My first reaction was negative, in that, while it was certainly entertaining (Trump may not bring much substance to the proceedings but he sure brings interest), there were few statements beyond what we already knew of the participating candidates.   

As it was, our conversation was limited to the exchange between Governor Christie and Rand Paul about the balance between providing our intelligence agencies with the tools necessary to fight terrorism and our rights of privacy as citizens.  Strangely, at least to me, Christie seemed to have won that brief exchange, despite the fact that most Americans as well as our elected officials in Congress, are not happy with the extensive spying on American citizens that was authorized under the Patriot Act, and carried out by the NSA.  One might say that Christie's perceived advantage in that exchange proves either that Rand Paul is not ready to be president if he cannot come out ahead when debating a topic for which he represents the majority opinion, or that a good politician can turn an unpopular position into a plus for him if he/she is loud and on point.  Or both.

A topic that I did not discuss with my friend was the statement by Scott Walker (I believe) that he would support the use of the Constitution to defend the rights of the unborn.  In essence, that a fetus should be given the rights of a person, at the moment of conception.  (If I misunderstood this position, please, someone, correct me.).  I found this very disturbing.  Imagine a world where the unborn can sue his mother for smoking a cigarette or running a marathon.  Or a world where the accidental death or murder of every child bearing aged woman, would require an autopsy to check for the presence of a fetus, to add that entity to a wrongful death case or a murder charge.  While I am sure that Walker believes that abortion is murder, his perspective falls dangerously close to a belief that a mother is merely the vehicle for bringing a new life into the world, and that the new life is the more important part of that equation.  It is bad enough that so many conservative pundits label birth control as a way for sluts to avoid conception, have much to say about out of wedlock babies being the fault of the mother with very little comment on the man's role, and support aggressive anti-abortion tactics that mandate intrusive medical procedures to "show" the fetus, and restrictive laws that make providing an abortion very difficult, now we see the true nature of the woman's role in this conservative world, a role more akin to the barefoot and pregnant stereotype, as opposed to a role where a woman has control over her body. 

But I digress.

I thought I would wait to comment on the GOP debate, as there are so many yet to come, and the field so vast that it seems futile to find any meaning in this first one.

But today I finished the Philanthropy edition of Lahpam's Quarterly, and in reviewing all the great essays, I remembered one written by Peter Singer from his book Practical Ethics.  In a nutshell, Singer argues for "effective altruism", the notion that people should do the most good they can by helping the ill and desperately poor.  But he goes further than just encouraging active assistance.  He believes that those who do not help are murderers by default, for not helping.  What he terms, the moral equivalent of murder.

I thought of the GOP debate in this light, not because I am a liberal and a registered Democrat, as I know that once one starts down the road of condemnation by acts of commission and omission, no one, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, religious and atheist, is blameless.  But what made me make the connection was what was not discussed at the debate. 

Did I expect a question about global warming?  No, but when the vast majority of scientists agree that the climate is changing, when record highs and lows, record rainfall and drought, extreme weather of all types are happening on almost a weekly basis, yet the top contenders for president are not asked about climate change, even if it is a hands up, do you believe it exists, do you believe it is caused or being accelerated by man, and what if anything should we do, then that condemns millions of poor people in the world to death by starvation or disaster. 

Or income inequality.  Do the wealthy in America control more of the economy than they should?  Do they have more access to our political system than is safe?  Strangely, Donald Trump has made the point that since he is so rich, he won't have to take money from big donors and grant exceptions to those with the most.  He even made a point to confirm that he has given large sums of money to candidates from both parties in the past to "get what he wanted".  Yet, he wants us to believe that if he is elected he will stop playing the game that he has played all his life.  Does he also offer ways to eliminate everyone else who is elected from playing the game?  Campaign reforms that give all potential candidates a set amount of money to campaign with, no donations from other sources, no spending personal money?  Or an executive order reversing the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling?  After all, Trump will run the government just like a business, whatever he says goes.  King Donald.  Will he call a meeting with all the CEO's of the biggest corporations and command them to raise wages or "your fired".  No, no real solutions.  And, when he made his comments about politicians being at the beck and call of the rich, there wasn't much blow back from the other candidates.  To be sure, income inequality will not be addressed, and by that omission, millions of working Americans will continue to struggle with poverty wages. 

How about the effect that our military spending has on our national debt?  At least I heard some comments about balancing a budget, every governor on the stage said he had done it, even though all states require a balanced budget by law so all they did was obey the law.  I guess I must be electable too since I obey all the traffic laws.  But all of them (except Rand Paul, and we all know he is soft on terrorism now), want to increase military spending.  More boots on the ground in the middle east.  It is not enough that we spend more than any other country in the world, over $600 billion a year, on "defense", more than the next 19 (I think it is 19) countries combined, most of the GOP candidates think our current president leads from behind and is not respected by our enemies.  So, of course, lets bomb some more people to get their respect, and place more American lives at risk to show we are the world leader.  In the meantime, since more military spending means less spending in other areas, our transportation infrastructure will be neglected, our schools will continue to produce mediocre talent, more tax breaks will be given to big business while less money will be spent on the American people who are suffering, and again, the needs of millions of United States citizens will be neglected.

As I said, however, those of us on the left share the blame as well.  When we bemoan the fate of the poor, yet purchase the biggest jar of mustard ever created only to throw out a third of it when it turns bad, when we decry the oil industry for polluting our air, yet drive everywhere, even when we could walk, when we shed a tear over the latest small, neighborhood business to close, yet brag about the one stop shopping we did yesterday at the big box store, when we live our lives without a notion of the consequences, we contribute to our shared ills just as those who actively suppress wages, pollute our environment, and engage in unethical business practices.

And lets not forget how we invest for the future.  It is easy to condemn a particular industry's negative practices, but not as easy to move our money away from those profitable companies and accept less return in our portfolios.

The GOP debate and the moral equivalent of murder.  I am looking forward to episode two, as well as the Democratic version when it begins later this year.


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