Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Debate The Town Red

So as you may have guessed from the fact that the most popular article in blog history- clearly visible to your right- is a piece where I describe Taylor Swift concert afterparties, I went out and got her new album, Red. So did everyone else, apparently, looking around the Internet. There's probably a copy hidden in your underwear drawer right now. Given that it's launch and my store had a launch bonus going, there were some extra goodies thrown in like a little postcard and guitar picks and a little poster and a perfume sample and oh God I'm doing it again aren't I.

So it would come to pass that for this particular current stretch of time there's Taylor on the brain. I think we'll have to find some way to parlay this into a usable article before I go paint a 13 on some inappropriate part of the anatomy of not necessarily myself.

Taylor's dating Conor Kennedy, correct? Good. Let's work with the Kennedys. Let's talk about a piece of Presidential debate history that was making the rounds prior to last night's debate, which was billed as foreign policy but, as predicted here, had a tendency to veer into domestic policy, mainly the economy. Making the rounds was a topic from John F. Kennedy's debates with Richard Nixon in 1960. A dominant issue of the debates were two islands disputed between China and Taiwan called Quemoy and Matsu. At the time of the debates, Quemoy and Matsu were a Cold War flashpoint, with Communist China looking to take them off of Nationalist Taiwan, who was in control of them. It was figured that grabbing them from Taiwan would help to invalidate Taiwan's position on the world stage- at the time, Taiwan was the one represented at the United Nations; China would eventually supplant Taiwan in 1971.

This was 1960, of course, and China still had ground to gain. It was thought to be a critical issue heading into the election. Kennedy and Nixon went back and forth on it all night- Kennedy figured they were sitting too close to China to be defensible and weren't crucial anyway; Nixon wanted to defend them as a manner of principle.

The thing about any topic presented in a debate about the next four years is that they are essentially predictions about things the moderator thinks will be important. Just as things unexpectedly come up, you never know what, exactly, will end up being a moot point. As it happened, no real fight over them happened and Quemoy (now Kinmen) and Matsu remain with Taiwan to this day. The entire Quemoy/Matsu debate ended up being a gigantic waste of time that very well could have made a last-minute difference in a razor-thin election.

It'd be far too easy to go about picking out topics that didn't come up in the debates. So what we'll do today is take the topics that did. The topic selection is generally pretty decent- the topics given were important at the time and they were very likely to continue to be important- but occasionally there's a bit of a misfire. We'll use the transcripts provided by the Commission on Presidential Debates (from 1960 on), and examine some of the foreign-policy topics presented that didn't quite turn out as expected.


Debate #3 (Los Angeles/New York splitscreen): "Senator Kennedy, yesterday you used the words "trigger-happy" in referring to Vice President Richard Nixon's stand on defending the islands of Quemoy and Matsu. Last week on a program like this one, you said the next president would come face to face with a serious crisis in Berlin. So the question is: would you take military action to defend Berlin?" -Frank McGee, NBC

Quemoy and Matsu, of course, show up here, but seeing as we've just gotten done with that, have a look at the other part of the question, about Berlin. As it happened, military action wasn't quite what history had in mind for Berlin. History had the Berlin Wall in mind, which was constructed the following year. The Iron Curtain had been constructed prior to the debate, but people trying to escape it were using Berlin as a gap in the fence and scampering through it. The military was needed to administer West Berlin along with the French and the Soviets, but the only real shooting happened from the East Germans when guards saw someone attempting to cross the Wall. And the guns were pointed at the defectors. By the time of his 'ich bin ein Berliner' speech in 1963, Kennedy had accepted that the Wall was there and not going away anytime soon.


Debate #2 (San Francisco, CA): "Mr. President, my question really is the other side of the coin from Mr. Frankel's. For a generation the United States has had a foreign policy based on containment of Communism. Yet we have lost the first war in Vietnam; we lost a shoving match in Angola. Uh - the Communists threatened to come to power by peaceful means in Italy and relations generally have cooled with the Soviet Union in the last few months. So le- let me ask you first, what do you do about such cases as Italy? And secondly, does this general drift mean that we're moving back toward something like an old cold - cold-war relationship with the Soviet Union?" -Henry Trewhitt, Baltimore Sun

This debate took place during what Italy refers to as the 'Years of Lead', because so many bullets were being fired in a conflict that was in fact taking place between the west and the 'Red Brigades', a Marxist/Leninist organization trying to foment revolution. And their most notorious act would take place in Jimmy Carter's term, the 1978 kidnapping and eventual murder of former Prime Minister Aldo Moro, who was attempting to reach a compromise with them. That act, though, was the start of a long slide downward from the level of support the Red Brigades had had up until then. Revolutions need people to carry them out, and prior to Moro's death, they certainly had the people to make a serious play for power. But after that, their base grassroots support started to draw away from them, seeing Moro's death as over the line and unnecessary. They compounded the problem the following year by killing Guido Rossa, a popular trade union organizer who had been referring the police to propaganda that the Red Brigades had been distributing. Given that Rossa and the Red Brigades were appealing to the same basic groups of people, this led to a whole lot of 'whose side are you on' disillusionment. The Red Brigades could be picked apart by investigative reporting and mass arrests from there. They officially broke up in 1988, the Soviets never having lifted a finger in the process.


Debate #4 (Williamsburg, VA) (and it was an utter shock to see that this particular debate was moderated by Barbara Walters): "Governor Carter, the next big crisis spot in the world may be Yugoslavia. Uh - President Tito is old and sick and there are divisions in his country. Uh - it's pretty certain that the Russians are gonna do everything they possibly can after Tito dies to force Yugoslavia back into the Soviet camp. But last Saturday you said, and this is a quote, "I would not go to war in Yugoslavia, even if the Soviet Union sent in troops." Doesn't that statement practically invite the Russians to intervene in Yugoslavia? Ah - doesn't it discourage Yugoslavs who might be tempted to resist? And wouldn't it have been wiser on your part uh - to say nothing and to keep the Russians in the dark as President Ford did, and as I think every president has done since - since President Truman?" -Joseph Craft, syndicated columnist

The Russians did not intervene in Yugoslavia. Tito- Josip Broz Tito, who had been leading Yugoslavia since 1953- ended up dying in May 1980. What ended up happening is Yugoslavia ran itself through a 9-person panel, representing all its various component parts (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Vojvodina, only the last of which is not currently claiming national sovereignty), and decided at the start how it would rotate leadership. They found themselves putting out an increasing number of fires lit by ethnic strife, leading to Yugoslavia's breakup a decade later.

Debate #3 (San Diego, CA- town hall): "Good evening. I'm Michael Smith. I'm an electronics technician in the Navy. My question was how you plan to deal with the trade deficit with Japan."

It was shortly after this that Japan's "lost decade" of the 90's (and some would argue the 2000's as well) caught up with it on this front, allowing China to overtake them as America's primary Asian economic antagonist.  While still a valid question, the trade deficit with Japan soon became less pressing than the trade deficit with China. You can see here that the eventual answer to the question, by the way, was and continues to be 'pretty much jack squat'.


Debate #3 (Winston-Salem, NC): "You said in the Boston debate, Governor, on this issue of nation building, that the United States military is overextended now. Where is it overextended? Where are there U.S. military that you would bring home if you become president?" -Jim Lehrer, PBS

This debate took place on October 17, 2000. This question was asked to Bush 43, the eventual winner. Anyone that needs me to tell them just why this became the most pointless, irrelevant question in the world within 11 months' time fell into a coma between those two points and has yet to wake up. Pray for their recovery.

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