A few nights ago, I forced myself to listen to the two Republican debates on television. The first debate consisted of the four least popular candidates, as determined by polls; and the second displayed the 11 most popular. Having 15 candidates for one party’s nomination, in the US, is in itself noteworthy. It certainly hasn’t happened in my lifetime (since 1945). I expected to be distressed by the tenor and contents of the debates, and my expectations were not disabused. However, my anticipation was nowhere near as frightening as the reality.
Every last one of these candidates expressed his (and [the lone] her) desire to de-fund Planned Parenthood. They seemed, without exception, to believe that Planned Parenthood obtained living babies and watched for them to die so they could ‘harvest their organs’ for subsequent sale. I do believe that Planned Parenthood personnel, in cases where dying children and fetuses have usable organs, would hope and try to use those organs for the good of other children who need them. This is a logical and humanitarian thing to do. I have been listed as an organ donor myself for decades (though probably my organs are a bit too old these days…). Who would truly want a viable organ to be wasted when some child in need could benefit?
I simply do not believe Carly Fiorina’s impassioned declaration of having seen a video of a living baby kicking on a bed in a clinic, with Planned Parenthood personnel coldly discussing harvesting its organs. I do remember having seen a video of Planned Parenthood personnel sitting in a pub or coffee shop, discussing the upcoming death of a fetus or baby and their intention to act quickly to save those organs for subsequent use. The wording used by the particular person was insensitive; I grant that. But one common mechanism—particularly when relaxing with friends—for dealing with the necessity to perform difficult operations / procedures is to protect oneself by flippancy and humour. Medical students are famous for misbehaviour when dealing with corpses in their anatomy classes—we all recognize it as a coping mechanism. And I suspect the insensitivity expressed by the Planned Parenthood worker was just that. In any event, turning one interchange of that sort into an across-the-board condemnation of a whole national institution that has done countless good deeds for young women (and men) is patently ridiculous. Yet every single Republican candidate believed Fiorina’s image (or pretended to), and supported the idea of de-funding Planned Parenthood (which has now happened in the House; whether it will pass the Senate remains unknown).
This is frightening enough for American women, many of whom—particularly those in financial straits—have depended on Planned Parenthood to supply health care and birth control. But even more frightening to me is the near unanimity with which these august personages expressed their readiness to invade other countries, to ‘stop talking and start acting’ on the international stage. Most wanted to tear up the agreement with Iran; most wanted to send troops into the Middle East; all wanted to show strength, often by acting apparently unilaterally and pre-emptively. Oddly, Rand Paul, a Libertarian and a bit of a nut case in his own right, was the voice of reason on international affairs. They also want to build a fence between the US and Mexico. One, Ben Carson (the popular black physician, at the time of the debate No. 2 in the polls of Republican candidates), wants to make it double, with a highway running between, from one side of the country to the other! They all want to repeal Obama Care, which has made health care available for so many who did not have it previously—including my own son and daughter in law!
A perhaps more fundamental worry that was reinforced by these debates is the lack of respect these candidates have for the truth. Carly Fiorina’s attacks on Planned Parenthood were completely false (Since the debate, she now holds the No. 2 Republican spot in the polls); Jeb Bush spoke of how his brother had ‘kept America safe’ (a statement that is particularly jarring given that 9/11 happened on his watch and he got us embroiled in disastrous and unjust wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among many other harmful and incompetent actions). Trump linked vaccination to autism, reinforcing the strange movement to avoid vaccinations [The movers and shakers in the anti-vaccination group obviously weren’t around when I was a child: children died of whooping cough, measles, diptheria, and friends at school were paralyzed by polio! I myself became dangerously ill with measles, prior to the availability of a vaccine; and I watched helplessly as 9 children died in the village of Long Segar, East Kalimantan in October 1979, where vaccines were not available]. The debates were full of patent falsehoods. The environment was notable by its absence as an issue. Acceptance of the neo-liberal economists’ doctrine (low taxes = good business), so obviously flawed if one pays any attention to the changes in policies as they relate to economic recoveries, was universal.
Most of these candidates are extraordinarily worrying: Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson all show obvious lack of common sense and express views that would endanger the world and the country. Lindsay Graham seems intent on believing that ISIS is literally on our doorstep, ready to invade. Marco Rubio speaks his dangerous views unusually articulately. Jeb Bush, John Kasich, George Pataki, and Rand Paul would seem to be among the lesser evils—though they too entered the competition to appear as right-wing as they possibly could. At least the first three of these appear closer to the ‘middle of the road’ than most others. Donald Trump, the frontrunner, though obnoxiously bombastic, seemed slightly less out of touch with reality than the rest (to my surprise)—though his ability to fund his campaign on his own and to whatever extent necessary makes his candidacy (and his popularity) scary as well. It’s a kind of absolute power.
I console myself, not entirely successfully, with these hopes:
– that these views are not as popular with the electorate as with those running for office. These 15 seemed intent on out-doing each other in their Tea Party leanings. Perhaps they will self-destruct, and some reasonable Republican candidate will emerge.
– that the US political system is unwieldy enough to prevent most actors, if elected, from accomplishing all that they set out to do (as we’ve seen, sadly, with many of Obama’s efforts). The balance of power has some advantages when nut cases are elected.
Two issues come to my mind that one would think/hope might enter the candidates’ minds. The first is that loving and being proud of America does not necessitate hating (or even being unaware of) the rest of the world. These candidates surely love their families, as well as their country. Can they not see that loving the Earth and the people who inhabit it is as consistent as simultaneously loving their family and their nation? Why do they put this firm conceptual boundary around this country? Do they not see how interconnected the world has become, that we really do have to manage to get along?
The second is the simple fact that actions have consequences. Tearing up the Iran nuclear agreement will encourage Iran to go nuclear and it will necessitate continuing sanctions that are adverse for the people (women, the old, the sick, the children, even the men!) of Iran. We know what has happened in Iraq and Afghanistan after we sent troops there—surely we cannot escape some responsibility (though not all) for the mess that exists in the Middle East these days—and now in Europe too! Will sending our youth into battle again really help, or simply exacerbate the conflicts—spiraling up perhaps to a World War III? Fencing off Mexico, even if it could be successfully accomplished, would stop or hinder the flow of workers who currently fill labour needs in this country. My son and his wife own a small business in Oregon. They struggle mightily to get reliable American workers (their legal immigrant workers are the most hardworking and dependable)—representative of a wider and longstanding trend: This country was built by immigrants, as people often forget.
The format for the debates is better, I think, than it has been previously, as it provides the candidates with a clear opportunity to express and exchange their views. Having four candidates allowed for more indepth discussion than was possible with eleven. I anticipate that the Democratic debates, with fewer candidates, will be more interesting and also, given my own views, much more encouraging. Let’s hope so!