President Barack Obama is greeted by moderator Bob Schieffer, center, as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney stands nearby at the start of the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, October 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida.

Elections 2012: A Debate About Power, But Not About Mother Earth

Mark Trahant
10/23/12

Ninety minutes are too quick for a debate about the world. In fact the globe shrunk to a few regions and a few issues in the final debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

There was a lot of discussion about the Middle East, and the threat of new war, Pakistan and a bit about China, and the role of America in the world.

“America’s going to come back,” Romney said his closing statement. “This nation is the hope of the earth.”

Romney’s hope of the earth can be boiled down to a single idea, power. American power, strength, is the key to global stability.

“Our purpose is to make sure the world is more, is peaceful,” Romney said. “We want a peaceful planet. We want people to be able to enjoy their lives and know they're going to have a bright and prosperous future, not be at war. That's our purpose. And the mantle of leadership for the — promoting the principles of peace has fallen to America. We didn't ask for it. But it's an honor that we have it.”

However Obama said America “has to stand with democracy.” Even when uncomfortable such as uprisings during the Arab Spring. “What I've also said is that now that you have a democratically elected government in Egypt, that they have to make sure that they take responsibility for protecting religious minorities. And we have put significant pressure on them to make sure they're doing that; to recognize the rights of women, which is critical throughout the region. These countries can't develop if young women are not given the kind of education that they need.”

Obama was prepared for this debate. He challenged Romney, often, on facts and narrative. He was quick to interject when Romney’s positions had changed (such as setting a withdrawal date for U.S. troops from Afghanistan.) And, both men would be tougher, albeit, in different ways on the economic relationship with China.

The night’s sharpest exchange focused on the Navy. “Our Navy is old, excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917,” Romney said. “That's unacceptable to me.”

Obama seemed ready for the exact date and countered quickly.

“You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916,” Obama said. “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military's changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.”

Ships that go under water? In two words the president dismissed Romney’s international policies as out of date.

There was a lot more said about the military (Romney says we spend too little, Obama says it’s about right) that consumes nearly half of all global spending. About Israel (both said a great ally). About Pakistan. (Encouraging stability.)

On Twitter, Indian Country Today Media Network readers were on the case. To this day we don’t know if Romney will support the best science in coming up with a strategy. Except that in this debate, in every debate, and on the campaign trail, Romney says how much he wants the Keystone XL pipeline and professes his love for coal.

Or, as @TheresaBraine put it on Twitter: “Amazes me how they miss the point that all this will be moot if we make our habitat uninhabitable.”

Once again the ICTMN audience was significant on Twitter during the debate. On a night with a lot going on – baseball playoffs and a Monday Night Football game – more than 211,000 accounts were reached. There was a good, smart conversation about how these issues impact Indian country.

Throughout the night, for example, Twitter participants wanted more information about how veterans fit into this discussion. @J_Opal wrote: “Finally...VETERANS! #mydadisavet” And, @WiteSpider added, “Making sure our vets r getting help they need when it comes 2 post traumatic stress syndrome. That's what I've waiting for.”

But let’s consider a moment about what was not said. As Romney said, America as the “hope of the earth.”

A hope of the earth implies that there are issues beyond power politics. One such issue was missing from the debate: Climate change was not on the agenda.

Think about place. The very moment when climate change is the greatest challenge is the same moment when the government lacks the resources to pay for solutions. Over the next forty years, the International Organization for Migration estimates that 200 million to 1 billion people will have to move because their land will be under water or in permanent drought. Native communities both in the United States and globally will be among the first affected, forced to move.

But the final debate didn’t explore that challenge, except to hear more about how coal and other natural resource development will create jobs.

However in his closing statement, Obama did say this: “We've got to do some nation building here at home.”

An understatement in a night of powerful talk.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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