Posted on October 23, 2012 in Countdown

Binders and Bayonets

There have been two presidential debates since the last Countdown, and we’re eager to report on both of them. Pundits gave Obama a narrow victory in the town hall debate and a decisive victory in last night’s foreign policy debate. While the town hall debate highlighted sharp domestic policy differences, Romney went along with the substance of just about every major Obama foreign policy choice in this last debate (the framing, not so much). On Syria, there was literally no difference. On Iran, Romney drew the red line at “nuclear capability,” which is short of Obama’s “as long as I’m president of the United States Iran will not get a nuclear weapon” red line. Without placing major alternatives on the table to Obama’s foreign policy, Romney found it quite difficult as a challenger to land punches against a sitting President. As is often the case in the internet age, the last two debates each had a “viral” moment that dominated the ensuing internet conversation. In the town hall debate it was Romney’s awkward “binders full of women” comment in his answer to a question about equal pay for women. In the foreign policy debate, Obama’s zinger about “horses and bayonets,” in response to Romney’s attack about the size of the navy, became the debate’s meme-able moment. While the last two presidential debates succeeded in generating internet buzz and positive coverage for Obama, it remains to be seen whether they are enough to make up for the President’s poor performance in the first debate. Keep your eyes on the polls over the next few days.

Apartheid Makes the Debate

Don’t get too excited, it’s not what you think. In the course of attacking Iran during last night’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney said he would make sure that Iranian diplomats “are treated like the pariah they are around the world, the same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.” Obama followed that shortly with this: “We’re not going to allow Iran to perpetually engage in negotiations that lead nowhere.” Spontaneous collective laughter broke out in the Palestinian territories when they heard that apartheid and fake endless negotiations were mentioned in the context of standing up for Israel against its enemies. After a few minutes, the laughing died down when the Palestinians realized, on second thought, how unfunny that really is, especially after the release of this disheartening poll on Israeli public opinion, which ran in one of Israel’s leading newspapers under the headline “Survey: Most Israeli Jews would support apartheid regime in Israel.”

An Unlikely Critic of Obama's Mideast Policy

It’s election season, so President Obama has predictably been under heavy Republican criticism for his Middle East policy. But that hasn’t been the only side he’s been criticized from. Yesterday, former President Jimmy Carter blasted Obama’s efforts (or lack thereof) to bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, saying “The U.S. government policy the last two to three years has basically been a rapid withdrawal from any kind of controversy.” He went on to say, “Every president has been a very powerful factor here in advocating this two-state solution. That is now not apparent.” Carter described himself as “grieved, disgusted and angry” that the two-state solution was “in death throes… a tragic new development that the world is kind of ignoring.” Of course, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu didn’t escape Carter’s criticism, as Carter also said “I don’t think there’s any doubt that Netanyahu has decided the one-state option is the one he’s going to pursue.” Think Netanyahu envisions a one-state option where Palestinians will have equal rights? Of course not, and therefore his one-state vision will produce no “solution” to the conflict.

There Is a "Top 10" List for That?

Yes, there is. From Michele Bachmann’s baseless accusations linking Huma Abedin, senior aid to Hillary Clinton, to an imaginary Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government, to bashing Arab American David Ramadan for seeking a seat in Virginia’s state House, Salon has it all: the top ten Islamophobic moments of the 2012 elections. Well, not everything. For some reason Salon opted to leave out former GOP presidential contender Herman Cain’s uncomfortability with hiring American Muslims and his loyalty test requirement for them. We would have definitely put those in the top 10, but guess it can be hard to pick the ten worst statements in this political climate. We’d make fun of these, except the fact that a “top 10” list leaving so much hate unmentioned translates into a rather depressing discourse, wouldn’t you say? This isn’t MTV; these are our politicians, and until hateful pandering is no longer a campaign season certainty, we’ve got to keep fighting the good fight. 

Suppressing Palestinian Education

The Harvard Crimson reported last week on a battle with Israeli customs officials to allow Palestinian students to take the SATs and realize their hopes of attending colleges in the United States. The SATs are administered in Palestine by AMIDEAST, who did not receive the tests from the College Board. As it turned out, they were being held without explanation for weeks by Israeli customs officials. Thankfully, it looks like the U.S. State Department intervened, as it later announced that the Palestinian students will get to take the test over the weekend after all (albeit late). This episode is yet another example of how the Israeli occupation hinders Palestinians’ access to good education; whether by roadblocks and curfews, or arbitrary customs hold-ups. We were completely shocked the occupation didn’t come back in last night’s debate; weren’t you?

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