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Beyond debates

By Shea Howell
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Within a few days, many of us will cast our ballots for the next president of the United States. We will also face a host of state and local candidates. In most places in Michigan, six main statewide initiatives will be accompanied by local ballot questions.

This should signal a vigorous public life. But many of us recognize there is something very wrong going on in our country.

How is it possible that a man as gifted, thoughtful and insightful as President Barack Obama can be leaving the electorate uninspired? How is it possible that in spite of three presidential debates, one vice presidential debate and hours of talk shows and commentary, this campaign rings hollow, failing to ignite passions or confidence in our future?

Most astonishingly, in one 90-minute debate, Oct. 3, President Obama went from a comfortable lead to an ever-tightening race.

Certainly the media does come in for its fair share of the blame. Corporate media coverage is portraying the election like a reality TV show, giving the impression we are voting someone on or off the island. The most probing questions have been posed by comedian Jon Stewart asking President Obama if he still thought foreign policy could be conducted in accordance with American values.

At a time when we the people face serious issues, neither the candidates nor the media seem able to provide in-depth considerations of the state of our world, our country and our futures.

Neither candidate has addressed the depth of the economic challenges we face. Both argue they will protect the middle class. In the first debate, President Obama actually allowed Mitt Romney to position himself as the champion of the middle class, promising 12 million jobs, lower taxes, a green economy and unparalleled growth.

Obama talked about taxing the rich (a little), restoring green manufacturing and a modest role for government spending on infrastructure and education.

Neither candidate talked about the stark truth. The middle class lifestyles they want to protect are made possible by tremendous exploitation of other people and other places. We have gone to war for oil and have refused to look critically at our oil dependent, throw-away culture. We will not even discuss the atrocities we are committing to protect this way of life. Every day drones and teams of trained assassins create further instability and hatred in a world we continue to abuse.

Additionally, both candidates promise jobs without helping people understand the nature of work itself has changed dramatically. Increasing manufacturing jobs, green or otherwise, will never again lead to large-scale, mass employment.

The processes of production of coal, steel, cars and basic industries no longer require masses of people. One machine now does the work of 100 miners. Robots forge steel and assemble, paint and aid in the design of automobiles.

Debating on superficial differences, neither candidate has helped us think about what many of us feel in our bones. The world is in the midst of a great transformation, a great turning. This transformation is as far-reaching as the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture or from agriculture to industry. It is the kind of change that human beings have only experienced a few times in our long evolution to this moment.

President Obama could again ignite the passions and hope of many of us if he would use this campaign to help us think about what this moment in history really means.

In the 2008 campaign, President Obama captured many of us by acknowledging that he represented more than himself. He stood as the inheritor of the sweep of history toward greater equality. He has the opportunity still to help us understand we are in the midst of an extraordinary historical moment, one that will not lend itself to simple solutions or glib rehearsed lines in a debate.

Contact Shea Howell at howell@oakland.edu

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