After several weeks of expertly crafted rhetoric, unmitigated hullabaloo, and grand ceremony, the Republican and Democratic National Conventions have finally come to a close, with the end result being that both parties have set forth their platforms for the 2012 general election.
National media outlets were apt to juxtapose the ambience and quality of each party’s convention, but dismissed out of hand several subliminal observations obfuscated by the diversion of national attention toward the state of our economy and fiscal health.
We have all heard the cheers and jeers directed at both parties with regard to the lack of diversity among the RNC audience, Clint Eastwood’s speech, Ann Romney and Michelle Obama’s speeches, and the dubious accuracy of both candidates’ economic pedigrees. What we have not heard, however, is a more nuanced interpretation of several key moments of each Convention, shedding light on the true character of the Republican and Democratic Parties. For this task, several Harvard University professors were asked to provide their insights.
Ambivalence Over Immigration
The Supreme Court’s decision this summer to strike down several controversial provisions of Arizona’s immigration law has cast a shadow over the GOP’s immigration platform and firmly placed the onus on them for lack of policy movement at the national level.
At the DNC, media outlets buzzed about San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro’s history-making speech and pronounced it a telltale sign of Democrats’ more pragmatic immigration policy. Yet, as Harvard professor Justin Gest told the HPR, events later that evening belied this upbeat tempo and indicated “America’s enduring sensitivity to issues of immigration.” Gest continues:
“We saw the mayor of San Antonio praise the American Dream as the son of a Mexican, and the First Lady—in depicting her husband’s story shortly thereafter—somehow forget that he was the son of a Kenyan. America remains ambivalent about incoming foreigners despite their indispensable role in its composition.”
Michelle Obama’s eloquent speech underscored much about the potential for all Americans to succeed due to the country’s inclusivity, and yet on the same night that Julian Castro drew comparisons to her own husband, Mrs. Obama tempered her passion and acknowledged that doing otherwise may have proven costly among an ambivalent American populace come November.
Little Daylight on Foreign Policy
Although Mitt Romney claims that his foreign policy is vastly different from President Obama’s, neither is easily distinguishable. More importantly, neither policy plank was given more than several minutes’ airtime at a time at the conventions.
To his credit, at least Pres. Obama mentioned his ending of the conflict in Iraq and anticipated timetable for the drawdown of the conflict in Afghanistan (despite escalating in Afghanistan and leaving behind a billion dollar embassy in Iraq with thousands of intelligence officers and military contractors abreast of it, effectively perpetuating Pres. Bush’s legacy in the region).
On the other hand, Romney did not mention Afghanistan once during his convention speech, and when prodded recently by the media, he instead reiterated his criticism of arbitrary defense budget cuts slated to go into effect in 2013.
Why the circumvention of the topic? As is the case for the entire Middle East, neither candidate references the conflict unless they are about to withdraw because it is red-meat for an independent voter base who have prioritized domestic concerns, and because there is little optimism that either country is bucking anticipations of a failed, obsolescent state.
According to Harvard Kennedy School professor Stephen Walt, since there is “little daylight between Obama and Romney” on foreign policy, “Iraq and Afghanistan did not get much attention in either party’s platform because both are unfortunate episodes that both parties would like to put behind them.”
It may be the economy, stupid, but that should not give either candidate the license to remain above accountability or transparency to an American people that have been engaged in conflict for more than a decade.
Beyond Hypocrisy on Pot Prohibition
Obama for America “Youth Liaison” and actor-comedian Kal Penn defended Obama’s drug policy as more conciliatory than his predecessor’s at the DNC and did not believe the President’s role in a recent campaign video to cater to youth voters was hypocritical in the context of his personal or professional relationship with cannabis. Meanwhile, Mitt Romney is unequivocally opposed to marijuana as an enabling drug (though his running mate is more open).
As Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron, a consequentialist libertarian and staunch proponent of drug legalization, told the HPR: “The DNC would like to portray the Obama administration as having adopted a calmer, more compassionate marijuana policy than previous administrations. Yet in reality the administration has mainly continued the same prohibitionist stance as its predecessors, both domestically and abroad.”
The salient point to takeaway here is that though both candidates and their parties went to great lengths to establish their job-growing credentials, drug-related issues were not mentioned at all over the past several weeks. This despite the fact that Miron and other economists project that marijuana legalization would save the United States close to $14 billion annually due to savings from law enforcement and earnings from taxation rates on par with alcohol and tobacco, and would create thousands of jobs in an industry that would no longer have to remain in the shadows.
As countless political theorists have pointed out, acquiring information about candidates for an election is the single costliest facet of our political process for individual American voters. To break free from our singular focus on the economy and be keen of what is both said and not said is imperative for the integrity and accountability of our electoral process.
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