With so many people struggling to rationalize their vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in November's election, there is a need to look beyond the tactical issues - who has a better tax plan; how much force should we apply in Syria; who can best handle Vladimir Putin - to contemplate the broader direction of the country. Personalities aside, debating skills aside, detailed staff-written position papers aside, that is the context in which the projected 100 million viewers should watch Monday's presidential debate. One suggestion is to use the filter of the individual versus the collective.
At one end of the spectrum is Barack Obama's view of a world no longer dominated by America. On the one hand this is reflected in Obama's October 20 United Nations speech which Richard Hass, long time president of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the crew on Morning Joe characterized as dispiriting for it being a 35,000 foot faculty lounge survey of the world's problems with no hint of American leadership. On the other hand it includes Obama's desire to turn over control of the internet to some international agency, his embracing the Paris agreement on climate change with no Congressional input, and his willingness to negotiate broad multilateral trade agreements which establish international tribunals' authority over commercial issues currently handled by American courts. George Soros would be proud that the American 300 million citizens would no longer dominate the 7 billion global collective.
The "equal and opposite reaction" is Donald Trump, an Ayn Rand character with a life dedicated to self interest, who rejects and is rejected by the political establishment of both parties. For the political moment he defines the collective as the United States of America, but his life's experience does not offer a lot of confidence that he understands or respects the valid underpinnings of his populist appeal. He has said little to suggest that he grasps the libertarian benefits of small government or the "subsidiarity" principle of placing decisions as close to the citizens as is possible. There is hope that Paul Ryan and the Republican House would set the direction domestically, but fear that the inexperienced bully would bumble into international confrontations. A credible foreign policy team would be a major help. So would some straight talk about the rights of individuals.
And then there is Hillary, who would define the collective as a coalition of self-interest groups large enough to generate 270 electoral votes. For those on the left who like Obama's view, there is her early work with Saul Alinsky, her negotiation of the "gold standard" Trans Pacific Partnership, her globe-trotting experience, and the good work done by the Clinton Foundation. There is enough pandering and free stuff to attract the "what's in it for me?" voters. Optimists would say that she is a pragmatist, that she would mold herself to work with anybody necessary to establish her power, and that she would reflect the amalgamated collective interests and opinions of the American voters. Pessimists would say that her corruption will destroy the American collective.
The influences on the thinking of a generation are complex - wars; financial catastrophes; advances such as the moon landing; tragedies such as the assassination of Martin Luther King. Millenials grew up with Star Trek's Annika Hansen, who somehow escaped from being Seven of Nine in the Borg collective. There was no individuality; the Borg captured creatures from various civilizations and used medical and psychological technology to incorporate them into their collective being. Existence was bleak; resistance was futile; there was no liberty or individuality. Perhaps at least for this generation the rejection of the artistic metaphor resonates in their politics.
As we enter the final stages of the campaign, it is good to look for the bigger themes - things that we know to be true rather than the discrete promises by lying or unempowered politicians which we know will mostly fall by the wayside. One very important, but currently very unclear differentiater is the commitment to liberty. Purists have favored Rand Paul, Bernie Sanders, and Gary Johnson, but none are relevant. We are down to a choice between Clinton and Trump. For a "future of America" perspective, observers of the debate should look and listen for the candidate who believes in the individual rather than the Borg.
This week's video is a clip from President Obama's final speech to the United Nations. As a maker of speeches he can be inspirational; would that his inept leadership did not lead to the chaos in the Middle East and in American cities.
bill bowen - 9/23/16