Thursday, September 18, 2008

Is This the Campaign We Deserve?

If you were following the news on Tuesday, September 10, you might be forgiven if you thought the two biggest issues facing the nation were use of a phrase involving a pig and lipstick and Barack Obama’s alleged support for “comprehensive” sex education for kindergarteners (false). Why? Because these were the two main prongs of the McCain campaign’s Swiftboat style attacks on Obama the day before the seventh anniversary of 9/11.

While these trivial issues were being vigorously inserted into the public debate by the McCain campaign and dissected by the media, far less attention was being paid to two other stories that broke on September 10, stories we might want to spend a little more time discussing before we resume the lipstick debates and choose a president.

First, the bi-partisan, congressionally appointed Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction heard chilling testimony from a range of national security experts that the U.S. is more vulnerable to a catastrophic terrorist attack than it was on 9/11. What? We’ve been moving backwards for seven years? We haven’t made any progress? That’s exactly what former Senator Sam Nunn, widely respected chairman of the non-profit Nuclear Threat Initiative, told the Commission. Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, a city that knows a thing or two about terror attacks, testified that the federal program to install radiation detection equipment around major U.S. cities is under-funded by $10 million. We are spending 1,000 times that amount every month in Iraq, yet Americans give Republicans an edge on national security issues. Go figure.

The second story that largely got lost in the McCain campaign’s efforts to talk about anything except the worst economy since the Great Depression, was testimony to the House Armed Services Committee by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Michael Mullen. He told Congress, “I am not convinced that we are winning it in Afghanistan,” and “we are running out of time.” Our Afghan strategy, he said, was failing.

John McCain would like any discussion about Iraq to start with the surge and ignore the faulty decision to go to war and the disastrous first five years of that war. But it is now painfully clear, if it wasn’t already, that the Bush Administration and its war champions, such as McCain, grossly underestimated the challenge in Afghanistan, where the people who attacked us on 9/11 were based, when they bit off another major war against a country that did not. With the military vastly overstretched, and nearly 150,000 troops and $10 billion a month committed to Iraq, it’s no wonder the slog in Afghanistan continues and victory remains elusive.

If we keep talking about lipstick and pigs and sex education while ominous threats continue to build around us, we will continue to court serious trouble. But what ought to appall every American is a presidential campaign that seems determined to shift our focus to trivialities, and which won’t even let one of its candidates, a person who may called upon to defend us from the very threats we have dangerously ignored for seven years, speak to the press.

After the one-day campaign hiatus to mark the worst attack ever on U.S. soil, we will be right back to lipstick and pigs from the campaign whose motto is “Country First.” But if we are attacked again, we will look back and wonder how in the world we could have cared about lipstick on pigs, and how ill-served we were by a campaign that demeaned both the American people and the once-honorable war hero who ran such a dishonorable campaign.

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