Friday, September 17, 2010

Whitman and Fiorina

Someone pointed out that I've been awfully unfair in whining so much about Jerry Brown. I guess it's easy to forget, given his own emphasis on fiscal conservatism at all costs and his willingness to trash the democratic process (Prop 13, minority rule, a money-driven non-primary), that there are worse people than him running for California's highest offices.

I think that there are a lot of reasons why Meg Whitman (campaigning--sorry, shopping!--to be Governor) and Carly Fiorina (trying to unseat Barbara Boxer to win election to the Senate) are dangerous individuals to elect, but each one worries me for particular reasons.

Meg Whitman, who has spent $119 million of her own money on the election so far, has now set a record for the most personal wealth spent by a candidate on an election in American history. I wish that she'd set another record by becoming the person to spend the most of her own money on a race and then withdrawing because they realise that the democratic process oughtn't to be for sale. She is running as a bureaucrat, as a manager, as an 'I-know-best-because-I've-run-a-company'. This ignores the fact that the dynamic of state governance could not be more dissimilar to a corporate boardroom, and that our state is a community comprised of people whose interests have to be addressed.

And if her principle for governing is off, her policy positions do not inspire confidence: she opposes California's legislation to take meaningful action against climate change, she supports discrimination against gay couples, and has supported Proposition 13.

Carly Fiorina toes the far-right line on what are probably the Republican Party's most damaging foreign policy stances (which are shared, to be fair, by too many Democrats). Fiorina is a proponent of the security state which asks us to sacrifice our ideals (she supports Guantanamo Bay) and which is also functioning to demonise immigrants and their descendants in Arizona and elsewhere.

She also advocates the acerebral unconditional support of Israel that has earned the U.S. so much deserved opprobrium in the world. From the most cynical diplomatic standpoint this is an idiotic practise which hamstrings our flexibility and leaves us with no room to manoeuvre to protect our own interests in the region. And it is hard to be anything other than horrified to realise that Fiorina wants us to give our unconditional backing to a country which has isolated the Palestinian population and proceeded to try to starve it of access to the most basic of human needs.

Fiorina's Afghan policy is worth quoting in whole: 'Carly', her website tells us, 'also views defeating the terrorist threat in Afghanistan as an imperative that requires military commitment, economic development and diplomatic energy. To achieve victory, it is critically important to continue listening to our commanders on the ground and to stay until our job is done'.

As of September 11 of this year, our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had claimed 4,281 casualties from our state (477 deaths). It would be difficult to actually prove that these wars have made us safer, and there is much evidence that suggests otherwise. Attacks on the U.S. are being planned by groups that didn't exist in 2001, which have grown out of our botched and immoral wars. Al Qaeda has now established a presence in Iraq--something that, whatever Dick Cheney insinuated, it never had prior to our invasion in 2003. Bombs have gone off in Madrid and London as a direct result of U.S., Spanish and British attacks on Iraq. We are now funding the next generation of warlords in Afghanistan because we don't trust the man who was meant to be our own puppet. Our continued presence is the biggest boon the Taliban could ask. We have become their raison d'etre. Our absence would undercut the sympathy they are able to elicit by pointing to the civilians murdered by drone attacks, botched raids or unnecessary bombings.

Fiorina has learnt nothing from the past nine years, and remains convinced that victory is possible in Afghanistan. I would like to hear, and Californians deserve to hear, what her definition of victory is. Our commanders on the ground don't necessarily have the best view of what we are creating in Afghanistan. It is not their job to make foreign policy. That's what happened in Vietnam, and it caused untold trouble. A runaway general of an earlier era, MacArthur, may have been right in that a nuclear attack on China would have won the Korean War for the U.S. But at what cost and with what implications? Fiorina clearly fails to grasp the centrality of civilian command and policy-making, a defining constitutional principle. She is not the kind of individual we need shaping our foreign policy in the Senate.

And unlike the gubernatorial contest, in which Jerry Brown is shamelessly singing from the Republican hymn-sheet, this one is one in which the candidates are a significant distance apart. Barbara Boxer has been a consistent foe of the Iraq war, having voted, unlike Dianne Feinstein (whose husband has made a bundle from the war), against authorising military action against Iraq. And she was not quiet after 2002. She took a praiseworthy path (and not always an easy one) by hammering at the Bush administration's incompetence and scaremongering, calling for a timeline for withdrawal. She has also been outspoken about Afghanistan (Dianne Feinstein has been amongst the most hawkish senators--by backing McChrystal publicly and undermining Obama's review process in December of last year, she directly contributed to the ill-judged surge) and has pledged not to let Obama's escalation of the war pass uncriticised. Boxer has solid credentials when it comes to social and economic policy, and has been amongst the Senate's most outspoken voices in defence of progressive environmental and energy policies.

Both Whitman and Fiorina think that governing a state or legislating for a country are analogous to running a business. Whitman has shown very little respect for the democratic process. One could be forgiven for thinking that she or someone in her campaign is a pathological liar, because as often as she has been called out (and almost universally condemned) for her advertisement's false claims, she persists in flooding the airwaves with misinformation, and in 'standing by' her claims. And Fiorina is promising a full-court press on behalf of the same kind of foreign policy that has cost the United States and California so much in lives and money, and which has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people around the world and the displacement of millions more. Hardly the leadership we need.

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