Monday, August 18, 2008

2002 all over again?

Watching the current presidential campaign makes me feel like I have traveled back in time as I have the sinking feeling that we are headed to same type of disaster which led us to war in Iraq. However, this time we run the risk of electing John McCain. Back then, every time I watched, listened to or read the news it seemed that we could never have an honest discussion of the issues because certain rhetorical tricks were being employed by those who wanted us to march to war. Unfortunately, a lot of those same tricks are being used right now to push for McCain's candidacy. Here is what I see so far:

Back in 2002, the rationale for going to war was incredibly flimsy. If you looked at the case that was presented by the Bush administration and weighed the evidence thoughtfully, there was very little reason to support the war. There was no terrorist connection, there was no link to 9-11 and the existence of stockpiles of WMDs was doubtful. Similarly, McCain is an exceptionally weak candidate. If you look at what he offers, it becomes abundantly clear that he is simply not a good fit for this country. Many of the policies that he embraces are ill conceived (e.g. gas tax moratorium), downright destructive (e.g. harsh stance towards Russia) or unpopular (e.g. support for Bush Tax cut).

However, just like in 2002, it is nearly impossible to get at the meat of the issue. One thing that the McCain campaign does is exploit personal tragedy to avoid criticism. Case in point, when asked whether McCain was in the 'cone of silence' during the forum at Saddleback, the campaign response was:

“The insinuation from the Obama campaign that John McCain, a former prisoner of war, cheated is outrageous,”

This is not the first time that the McCain has used this tactic during the campaign (see here), and it brings to mind the tragedy of 9-11 to thwart criticism of the war. We were constantly reminded of the 3,000 deaths suffered on that day, especially when anyone would point out that the rationale for the war was not as strong as it should have been.

Another tactic is the impugning of motives for those that oppose McCain's candidacy. As noted by Josh Marshall, McCain has repeatedly stated that Obama is committing treason so that he can win an election- which is eerily similar to the tactic commonly used by war supporters in 2002. While now it has become a joke (i.e. "Why do you hate America?"), many commentators would ask why 'opponents would want to undermine the troops' or 'let the terrorists win'.

Lastly, there is the suggestion that questioning McCain's credentials means that you are unpatriotic. As we all learned from the Wes Clark dust-up, asking whether McCain's military background matters is strictly forbidden. We have also had no mainstream coverage of the Solzhenitsyn issue which, as I noted yesterday, is to be expected since asking about it would mean that you are unpatriotic. This matches perfectly with what happened to many critics of the war in 2002 (e.g. Phil Donahue, Dixie Chicks), as they were vilified for opposing the war and speaking their mind.

My hope is that this trend can be reversed, but in all likelihood, public discourse will remain unchanged. I see no evidence that the traditional media will change their ways and fight through the BS. I only hope that voters are wise enough to see the difference.

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