I know perfectly well what both men "stand for", as much as they "stand for" anything in this age of cash-infused politics where a principled position is as rare and as tenuous as a truthful statement and about as welcomed.
The massive, weapons-grade avoidance of history and common-sense on display - largely from the Republican candidate, but that is the necessary and unavoidable consequence of his entire political party having descended into gibbering madness - is both revolting and irritating.
The past week's episode - which I understand was based largely on "foreign policy" - was perhaps the worst of the lot largely because of what was NOT discussed.
Both candidates apparently agree that my nation should be involved in constant low-grade warfare against shadowy Islamic groups in the least-stable portions of the Third World, apparently on the fact-unsupported belief that killing people and wrecking things in these fetid and festering hives of scum and villainy will have a salutary effect on the locals instead of being the geopolitical equivalent of tossing gobbets of raw flesh into an open sewer in hopes of attracting rats to smash one by one with a ball-peen hammer.
No hint of re-evaluating the U.S. voracious appetite for petroleum, it's purblind embrace of Israel, it's knee-jerk embrace of unproven techniques of human destruction such as drone assassinations, it's monstrous "defense" edifice or the attendant incestuous entanglement of warfare, cash, politics, and the economy (otherwise known as the "military-industrial-congressional-complex") was on display. In this both men were practically reflections of one another, and both were a noxious display of the vile consensus that comprises the "Washington Rules". Charlie Pierce put it best when he said:
"In no area have we as a self-governing nation so abandoned our obligations as we have on foreign policy. In no area are we so intellectually subservient to expertise, and to the Great Man Theory of how things should be run. In no area are we so clearly governed, rather than governing ourselves. The president, at least, occasionally seems to be aware not only that this is true, but also that it puts the whole experiment of self-government in mortal peril, just as the Founders knew it would when they lodged the war powers in the Congress, which has spent the last 225 years giving them back, in one way or another, to the Executive, which is presided over, always, by One Great Man. He at least seems self-aware enough to appear troubled by the power he nonetheless wields."That is combined with an almost surreal capability to either ignore or forget our nation's history. This was perhaps best presented by Romney's statement: "America has not dictated to other nations. We have freed other nations from dictators."
I read that and thought: Jesus Fucking Roosevelt Christ on a milking stool, do you want me to start geographically or fucking chronologically?
Fulgencio Batista, the Duvaliers, Somoza, Rios Montt, Micheletti, Pinochet in Chile, the Greek colonels, Mubarak, the Marcos disaster, the Shah, the sad attempt at foisting Chalabi on the Iraqis that failed only because the sad bastard turned out to be incapable of leading four bazaar ruffians to a kebab shop, the Diem coup, god knows how many satraps and tinhorn strongmen we're propping up in the former Soviet stans because we need their airfields and roads...
We - the imperial we, the we that is We the People - hide behind the idiotic refrain of American goodness and democracy. And within our borders we have, indeed, a fairly enviable record for probity and political honesty. But our goodness has traditionally ended at the water's edge, and we would do ourselves a huge favor to be honest with ourselves and each other about that.
But we have not, and the evidence suggests we will not, and therefore the evidence also suggests that we will continue on this blundering path of inadvertent empire, spending blood and treasure in search of a ghost we ourselves have raised, all the while tormented by the unquiet spirits of the evils we have worked on others in our ignorance and strength.
Update 10/25: And the hidden reality of what this is doing to my country appears even more dangerous than the open stupidity. Read Glenn Greenwald's summary of the recent efforts by the current administration to organize this apparently-limitless expenditure of armed force in the global hustings: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/24/obama-terrorism-kill-list
As Greenwald concludes: "...what we have had for years, is a system of government that – without hyperbole – is the very antithesis of that liberty. It is literally impossible to imagine a more violent repudiation of the basic blueprint of the republic than the development of a secretive, totally unaccountable executive branch agency that simultaneously collects information about all citizens and then applies a "disposition matrix" to determine what punishment should be meted out."
I'm reading a very breezy account of the reign of the Roman Emperor Domitian by Lindsey Davis ("Master and God", for those of you who enjoy your historical novels with a touch of modern British snark). And the takeaway lesson is that polities, ALL polities, have to be VERY careful about setting up procedures and agencies that are capable of applying force unconstrained by law.
Even when those laws are there they are not ironclad; the Soviet Union had lovely laws prohibiting things like judicial murder and false imprisonment - they just never bothered to use them.
But when a republic allows its agents to act in secret, and without public accounting for their acts, it almost guarantees its own destruction.