Tag Archives: debate

Global Conflict Requires Caution

Foreign policy gets complicated very fast. Having lived in four U.S. states, I could discuss with you the hopes, fears, work ethic, values, worship practices and food that animate the various regions of America. Even without pulling in U.S. Census or Barna research figures, our observations would be fairly accurate—for we know our own culture and history from the inside out.

It’s a whole different ballgame when you start to compare, say, Latvia, Argentina, Uzbekistan and Singapore. I’ve met very smart people, usually with connections to these nations, who devote their lives to improving these dynamic places. But, personally, it would be overwhelming to try to take in decades (or centuries) of information affecting their current conflicts and issues.

All that to say: I am a big believer in foreign policy caution. Especially when it comes to any military action, where the lives of men and women on both sides are at stake, I pray that commanders of our Armed Forces (all the way up to the top) are circumspect, reluctant to use violence and making every effort at diplomacy to solve conflicts.

On the Radar Screen: Iran

Sometimes diplomacy gets us only so far. If 9/11 taught us anything, it was to stop navel-gazing and realize who in the world has ill intentions towards the West. When a country’s harsh rhetoric is backed up by building a bunker in a mountain for nuclear weapons testing, we should start to take notice. That country is Iran.

No one is saying the U.S. military should go in “guns blazing” to deal with this potential threat. From where I stand, the best defense strategy story of the past two years involves how the U.S. and Israel shut down some of Iran’s nuclear capabilities via a computer virus known as Stuxnet. Read the story at tinyurl.com/StuxnetVirus

What I am saying is: solving a problem starts with defining it. In this case, we are wise to admit that in Iran we face a totalitarian state that harbors terrorists, violates the human rights of its people and is determined to attack freedom wherever it exists. It’s no accident that murderous groups Hamas and Hezbollah are sponsored by Iran. Or that U.S. solders in Iraq have been killed by improvised explosive devices originating from Iran.

Santorum v. Paul on Defending Freedom

Returning to the Republican presidential hopefuls, one candidate offers a very different threat assessment on Iran than the others. “Why should we write people off?” asks Rep. Ron Paul. “Why wouldn’t it be natural that they might want a weapon? There’d be—internationally, they’d be given more respect.”

Now Congressman Paul has a strong record defending property rights and sound monetary policy. Yet considering how large a voice the President of the United States has on foreign policy, the venerable 76 year-old Congressman is not sounding very serious.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has been willing to challenge Paul’s neo-isolationist rhetoric. “Iran is a country that has killed more American men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan than the Iraqis and the Afghans have.” Santorum’s clear perspective is backed up by his record. In 2006, he authored the Iran Freedom Support Act which imposed sanctions on Iran for their nuclear program.

The complexities of foreign policy make it even more difficult than domestic issues to handle in debate sound bites; indeed, trying to develop a cogent argument on global affairs can come across as scholarly and stuck-up, rather than snappy and sincere.

We need candidates who will take that risk. Instead of wasting time focused on personalities and gossip flying at the speed of Twitter, what must remain front and center are the principles we believe should guide our future president.

Cross-posted at ORU Oracle

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Path to the Presidency: Principle Over Personality

Five debates down, ten to go. Deciding on the best candidate to match up against President Obama will continue to be a long, winding road over the next several months. It’s an exciting time, when all manner of center-right ideologies are jockeying for position.

Yet debates are inherently problematic, as the Nixon/Kennedy face-off famously proved; looking good on TV is all about style, not substance. It’s part of our civic duty to look past the personalities and one-liners, instead searching for signals of how this man or woman will set priorities, make decisions and lead our nation.

Year after year, certain issues emerge as debate fodder: stuff too complex to fully explain in two minutes, but easy to throw rhetorical bombs at if your opponent has clearly defined a position. Now I’m a simple guy, so this will only be a fly-over view of one such issue. The goal here is to distinguish between a grand vision for America, and just grandstanding.

New Candidate Tackles an Old Problem

Since joining the field of candidates in the past month, the Governor of Texas has ignited peoples’ passions—both for and against him. While the left sees another George Bush, the right finds his nuanced immigration views challenging… and some corporate connections troubling. Yet what’s undeniable about Governor Rick Perry is his penchant for putting the national debt in stark terms while other candidates are, by and large, spouting talking points.

Our nation’s $14 trillion debt is actually easy to understand. President Obama recently proposed a budget for 2012 that has one category eating up 58% of the total amount: entitlement programs, known popularly as Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

The first two I listed are the biggies, offering health care and retirement benefits to seniors who have paid into the system. Because Americans are living a lot longer than in the 1930’s when Social Security was started, the finances of that program simply do not add up today.

“We have not had the courage to stand up and look Americans in the face, young mid-career professionals or kids that are my children’s age, and say, ‘Listen, this is a broken system,'” says Perry. “It has been called a Ponzi scheme by many people long before me. We’re going to fix it so that young Americans going out into the workforce today will know without a doubt that there were some people who came along that didn’t lie to them and told them the truth.”

By the way, that 58% for entitlement programs contrasts rather starkly with the national defense spending category (19%) and foreign aid (2%). When anyone asserts we can fix the debt and avoid a fiscal crisis like Greece without dealing extensively with entitlement reform, ask to see the numbers. Because they don’t exist.

It’s true that seniors are a powerful voting bloc and it scares some of them to hear we must reform these programs. But we can do it and still ensure a strong safety net for those who need the vital support these programs offer. For a real plan with real numbers behind it, check out SavingTheDream.org

Perry v. Romney

Lately Perry has clashed with Governor Mitt Romney. Admittedly the former Governor of Massachusetts has strengths as a candidate, notably his private and public sector management experience.

On this issue he tries to use Perry’s boldness against him. “The term ‘Ponzi scheme’ I think is over the top, unnecessary and frightful to many people,” Romney says. He then proceeds to insinuate that Perry’s reform proposals for these programs will hurt seniors.

Truth is, it will take strong words and even stronger political courage to make real changes to the drivers of our national debt. Which makes this an ideal way to determine if a candidate is a pathfinder on the biggest factor weighing down our economy, or if one is just posturing.

Cross-posted on ORU Oracle

How 9/11 Changed Our World Forever

I was late. In only my third week as a freshman at ORU, here I was in a mad rush from my dorm room on Michael 12 to make it to American History. A strange sight in the fishbowl commons area slowed my speed-walking: a dozen students gathered around the big-screen TV watching images of a burning New York skyscraper.

My frame of reference led me to one thought: Why is everyone watching Armageddon so early in the morning? Arriving at class, I learned the images on TV were real. Classes were called off, the Chapel hosted an intense prayer and worship service a few hours later… and by day’s end, that American history textbook we discussed on September 11, 2001 was outdated.

Be Alert, not Afraid

A homemaker I met recently introduced me to her “9/11 TV” as she called it. “Oh, after 9/11 happened, I realized I knew almost nothing about what was happening in the world. So I installed a large TV in my bathroom – my 9/11 TV – and watch the news every morning as I put on my face.”

She reflects a much larger trend: we’ve become more aware of how complex and interconnected our world is. In the process, we’ve become more fearful at times. 24/7 media is complicit; thanks to much larger potential audiences following 9/11, cable news networks ratchet up the drama—with Red Alerts often interrupted by sirens-blazing Breaking News.

In the wake of 9/11, the clips on repeat were indeed scary. These terrorists could legitimately be feared. Their methods flipped Washington’s accepted security doctrines on their head: a group not acting officially under a state government launched a suicide mission that killed three thousand Americans. Even with overwhelming military might, that’s a difficult threat to overcome.

Discretion and Debate

“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States,” states Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution. While it provides Congress an important role in approving all funds spent in military action, our nation’s guiding charter gives the President discretion in waging war to ensure our nation’s safety.

How President George W. Bush and his administration exercised this discretion following that fateful day remains a topic of intense debate. Launching an aggressive attack against Afghanistan, where the terrorists were trained and organized, as well as later Iraq, continues to involve trillions in U.S. taxpayer dollars, overwhelming amounts of data gathered by intelligence agents, millions of foreign nationals affected overseas, and the personal sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of military families.

Then there’s the results. Reasonable evidence exists on both sides; some friends of mine point to how average wages in Iraq have actually decreased since before the conflict, while others emphasize Iraq and Afghanistan’s unprecendented free elections and human rights improvements. “Unmitigated disaster” or “The liberation of oppressed peoples”: the truth likely lies somewhere between these two extremes.

What’s indisputable is the Bush administration’s good sense to reorganize our intelligence programs to stop another large-scale strike from happening. This effort has been a great success. Over 40 attempted terrorist attacks have been thwarted since 9/11. Opening secure channels between CIA, FBI, NSA, OSD and other acronym agencies surely involved a lot of boring internal politics. Yet it’s exactly what was needed to save lives.

United We Stand… Divided We Fall

Of the movies and TV specials produced to date, United 93 gets closest to the heart of 9/11. Telling one story well, it becomes a microcosm of our national decade-long struggle.

Confusion reigns as stewardess and control tower alike have no idea what’s happening. Then shock when we realize what is happening. Followed by impatience when we hatch our own plan but cannot take action right away.

Ultimately, the pivotal moment comes when Todd Beamer rallies other passengers to storm the cockpit and stop United Flight 93 from reaching the U.S. Capitol. Race, income, religious background, occupation: none of this mattered. Pulling together is how these everyday heroes stopped the madness.

America learned from their courage. According to The Economist reporting on a string of recent in-air incidents, “After 9/11, the vast majority of airline passengers are now inclined to resist any attempts to hijack a plane.”

Their example carries through to the larger struggle. Those serving in the US Armed Forces have learned and sacrificed most in this fight. (Full disclosure: my brother Tim, also a former ORU student, is currently deployed to Afghanistan.) Early on in the war, Defense and State Departments alike faced a steep learning curve. Where do we engage this unknown enemy? How do we ensure safety and sanity of people on both sides? And when the fighting stops, how do we spark a national culture shift?

Maybe answers are not so far from our grasp. Imagine a future business graduate in dialogue with social workers, crafting a plan for all to benefit from oil discoveries. Engineering and psych experts have safety and sanity questions to tackle. Teaching children drama and music opens up new directions in their culture. Yes, we even need philosophy majors: Just War Theory may once again be at the forefront of discussion.

This strategy of synergy—pardon the marketing buzzwords—isn’t fantasy. A friend of mine here in DC, who happens to have a theology degree, embeds Old Testament history in his briefing reports to top-ranking officers at the Pentagon. (Like all theologians, he says his greatest struggle is keeping his insights to the standard one page.) Thank God he didn’t dismiss it as a useless degree.

Everyone was late in grasping the enormity of 9/11. How we think and interact must continue to change. Rather than fear and lethargy getting the better of us, let’s roll.

Originally published in The Oracle, Sept. 9 2011 edition

Give Politics a Chance

“The people are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” – Thomas Jefferson

Interior design isn’t my thing. I enjoy a nice home, sure, but start talking about spackle, crown molding – or colors spelled with more than six letters – and I’m out of my depth.

The extent of my furniture buying is to venture into Ikea every four years or so, flanked by friends or family as backup. Overall, except for rooms with little visual jazz, this lack of interest results in no harm done. It’s livable.

How I treat interior design is how many treat politics. The problem with that is, public policy isn’t a boring room you can just ignore.

Even here in Washington, where people breathe this stuff, some friends cynically brush off discussion of the debt ceiling, energy depletion or defense strategy. “It’s all just theater… partisan bickering… a worldly pursuit.” In the right company, the rant will likely end with, “Throw the bums out!”

Every four years many of these folks “hold their nose” and vote—which is a good thing. The truth is, battles are raging every day in the halls of power, deciding where your tax dollars are spent – and how much. It’s worth your time and attention to follow what’s going on and make your voice heard. If people of faith, energy and creativity stayed involved, America would right itself.

I was a cynic about all this not long ago. Sometime during the ’08 election cycle while listening to talk radio and laughing at their put-downs of the other side, a question began to nag at me: What’s really going on? And if it is important, could I contribute in some way? The truth of the matter had to be more complex than these entertainers made it seem.

The journey towards that truth led me to leave a job in Colorado Springs, facing 14 months of internships and unemployment in the DC area. It’s a story too long to tell here. Suffice to say, God provided and guided my steps. Through mistakes, false starts and lost debates, a few guideposts have helped me make better sense of politics.

Sources Matter

Everyone has a reason for believing what he or she does. Yet what passes for solid conventional wisdom (say, ending foreign aid would solve America’s budget problem) is often flat wrong. And our personal experiences often supersede the bigger picture revealed by trends.

To arrive at anything near truth, take in a lot of reliable information from many sources. That’s the heart of writing research and intelligence: the ability to collect diverse facts, reams of data, wildly different perspectives – and fairly synthesize that information into summary points. Otherwise, it’s just your opinion.

It’s why I make an effort to tune in to NPR as well as Dennis Prager, subscribing to The Hill and The Morning Bell e-newsletters, and watching for updates at both census.gov and the Fortune 500. As Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out.”

Tone Matters

Let’s assume you successfully discover some new reality from multiple sources, on an issue you believe matters. Time for the talk. (No, not the one about the birds and bees.)

It’s easier to discuss the weather and your health instead of politics and religion. Agreeing to disagree is common even among allies. As a friend told me recently: “She knows what I think, and I know her side – we just don’t bring up those issues where we disagree.”

But then no one learns anything. I talk politics with friends (and strangers) to gain from their perspective. When we differ on the big questions, I try to listen and be persuasive. This is sadly a rare thing in political circles. TV and radio airwaves are blasting with people talking over each other rather than to each other.

Back to that same chapter in Proverbs, verse 15 states: “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.” Conceding a point, being empathetic, and refusing to call names all help bring people around to your point of view. Where it gets tricky is when a kind tone collides with core moral priorities.

Priorities Matter

Voices like Jim Wallis regularly call for Christians involved in politics to “broaden their agenda” and stop focusing so much on issues like abortion and traditional marriage. True enough, the Gospel has a lot to say about poverty, the rule of law, stewardship, education and even transportation.

From where I stand, we also cannot kid ourselves. There is a true hierarchy of issues when we consider the world in moral terms. How oil drilling affects the environment, and what’s economically feasible to be a good steward, has a moral angle to it. But the violent killing of over 14 million babies worldwide every year by sucking their brains out is a horrific injustice.

On this, I don’t come across as very nice to some in Washington. The goal is to be truthful, not spineless.

We will never live in a perfect world this side of eternity. Each of us have different roles to play to make our nations, our cities, and our families better, more alive, and more reflective of God’s Kingdom. As a new school year begins, I pray you will discover more of that calling. Sometimes it’s a process of elimination; interior design is not in my future, I’m fairly certain.

No matter your major, I hope you realize the value of understanding and staying involved in politics. Yes, the issues are complex. Yes, my eyes glaze over too after looking at one page of our national budget. Still: this stuff matters.

A former ORU student and University of Colorado graduate, Josh M. Shepherd works at a think tank in Washington, DC.

Cross-posted at ORU Oracle

Biden is No Fool… and other thoughts on the VP Debate

Watch the full debate now:

A few observations about the Vice Presidential Debate last Thursday…

1. The VP candidates are better debaters than their running mates.

In the first debate, Obama came off like he was trying to incite McCain to anger, while McCain didn’t show great confidence even on foreign policy questions where his experience smokes Obama. Overall, there wasn’t a focus on the actual issues being debated.

By contrast, Palin and Biden debated without interrupting each other or resorting to personal attacks. It was worth watching, and over 70 million Americans did.

2. Joe Biden is a force to be reckoned with.

Conservative media, particularly Sean Hannity and the RNC (see their website NotYourAverageJoseph.com), have mistakenly portrayed Biden as a buffoon. This U.S. Senator knows a lot, and he shares his knowledge tactfully.

3. Sarah Palin is a smart, likable leader.

Even many Republicans were doubting this after Palin’s recent interviews with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson. Yet Palin has a strong command of the issues and relevant facts, with the added plus of being a Washington outsider who calls out blatant political deception when she sees it.

Inexperienced in government? No, Palin managed a $6.6 billion budget as governor of the largest U.S. state. Inexperienced at the media “gotcha” game? Absolutely, as we’ve seen these past weeks.

4. Gwen Ifill was a non-factor.

Except, she did seem to give Biden the last word on a majority of the questions. I will not spend time here to take Ifill’s employer (PBS) to task and challenge why taxpayers are funding the left-leaning programming on NPR and PBS… perhaps another day.

5. This election will be very close.

Neither campaign is doing a stellar job of presenting their message. In the final analysis, Biden got enough of his facts wrong to make his very authoritative statements suspect.

Meanwhile, Palin failed to clearly connect the dots that Obama+Biden = Big Government. Since a majority of Americans believe government is the problem not the solution, the race could change quickly if McCain/Palin continually reinforce this core conviction of their platform.

2008 will surely be a lot like 2004 (when a few thousand Ohio voters determined the next president) and 2000 (when a few hundred in Florida decided who would lead the free world). Except this year, there are over 10 “swing states.”

Make your voice heard and register to vote if you haven’t already.

Your thoughts?

Hatchet vs. Scalpel (Recap of the First 2008 Presidential Debate)

Watch the full video now:

“Build the defense with wisdom and efficiency. We must achieve both security and solvency. In fact, the foundation of military strength is economic strength. A bankrupt America is more the Soviet goal than an America conquered on the field of battle.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower

With this quote, the First Presidential Debate between Senators McCain and Obama began. By all appearances there was no clear winner: both stumbled at times, both got the crowd to laugh, neither seemed too bloviating or bold.

If anyone was strange, it was host Jim Lehrer who kept egging the candidates on: “Say that directly to your opponent, Senator… look into his eyes.” Creepy.

Essentially it came down to the two issues Eisenhower raised: the economy and defense.

The economy. This lead-off discussion revealed only a few differences in the two candidates, but they are major. Both expressed support for the bailout, somewhat surprising. Senator Obama said that “$700 billion is potentially a lot of money.” Yeah, potentially it is.

McCain then let loose with his views on earmarks, aka pork or wasteful government spending. He’s been called the Sheriff of the Senate, with little support in fighting “the biggest budget increases since the Great Society” (under Democrat President LBJ, 1964).

Citizens Against Government Waste catalogs the crazy spending happening currently in Congress, I encourage you to read their reports and sign up for CAGW e-mails. You should know where your money is going.

When McCain mentioned the possibility of a federal spending freeze, excepting a few categories, Obama had had enough. “You’re using a hatchet when you need a scalpel.”

Wait… the federal budget is slated to be $1 TRILLION OVER BUDGET; keep in mind that budget itself is $3.2 TRILLION. I don’t think a scalpel–used for arts, crafts and dentistry–is going to do the trick on this budget. It needs a hatchet.

Though pressed for what he would cut, Obama only brought up that he plans to bring government-funded broadband internet to rural areas. Nice use of the “scalpel” there.

Fact check: Obama said that “effectively, the U.S. has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world.”

False. The accounting firm KPMG analyzed global tax rates in 106 countries, finding that the U.S. is ranked one of the highest — with 40% of corporate funds going towards taxes.

Fact check: McCain said the United States is the largest exporter in the world.

False. Germany is, according to The World Factbook. The U.S. is ranked third.

Defense. To say this was heated is a gross understatement. Both sides scored points along the way, with Obama’s mention of the $600 billion spent in Iraq raising eyebrows while McCain’s stand behind General Petraeus’ strategy showed his military understanding.

Side note: it was around this point that Obama stopped referring to McCain as “John” and began calling him “Senator McCain.” McCain got off a couple zingers here, including “It’s hard to reach across the aisle from that far to the left” and “I don’t even have a seal yet” (a reference to Obama’s presidential seal which many find presumptive.)

Fact check: “Admiral Mullen suggests that Senator Obama’s plan is dangerous,” said McCain. “That’s not the case,” Obama interjected.

McCain is correct. Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, actually called Obama’s plan “very dangerous” when appearing on Fox News Sunday.

Despite the negativity surrounding Iraq, it was crystal clear that McCain has a much better grasp on foreign affairs. He talked through his 20 years of experience. He knew the current troop counts in Afghanistan from memory. And McCain forced Obama to frequently resort to “Me too” responses on several major policy questions.

Favorite quote, following McCain’s story of a young hero he remembers by wearing the soldier’s bracelet:

“Let me just make a point: I have a bracelet too.”

– Senator Obama, then glances at his wrist to remember the name