Do Romney and Obama live in “Homeland”?
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One way of understanding the debate, in fact, is that Obama and Romney were playing opposing candidates on TV, debating events in the “Homeland” timeline as a way of reaching out to a dim public that possesses less and less knowledge of the world and has almost no sense of the boundary between reality and fiction. Obama said that al-Qaida remains the biggest threat to the U.S., while Romney claimed it was the prospect of an Iranian nuclear bomb. I think you can make a pretty good case that both things are useful chimeras; al-Qaida looks increasingly like a fading, failed franchise operation, while the Iranian bomb does not exist and probably never will.
Of course it’s true that both candidates have seen intelligence assessments on the Iranian nuclear program, whereas you and I have to go on what we read in the paper. But those reports probably indicate that Iran is not all that close to developing a nuclear weapon and that its regime — setting aside nutso president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (who is mainly a figurehead) — is best understood as a rational actor jockeying for tactical advantage rather than a rogue state bent on apocalypse. Quite a few reasonable people have argued, in fact, that even if Iran did acquire nuclear weapons, it wouldn’t necessarily be a world-destabilizing event. I recognize, of course, that no American politician will ever be allowed to express that view. (Pakistan, a thoroughly messed-up and dysfunctional nation whose government pretended not to notice that the world’s most-wanted terrorist was living just outside its capital city for years, is believed to have 115 nuclear warheads. That’s a reason to be frightened.)
While Obama and Romney tried to out-rhetoric each other on the imaginary Iranian bomb, they spent only a few minutes trading barbs about America’s worsening financial and commercial subservience to China, which is not only real but vastly more dangerous. There was almost no substance to that back-and-forth, largely because both men know there is little they can realistically do, at least in the short horizon of one four-year term in the White House. It’s already clear which nation will be the economic superpower of this century. American citizens will need to pull together to ensure that we hold on to some vestige of our civil rights and liberties during an extended “cool war” with China over trade and global influence, but neither of this year’s candidates looks like a poster boy for that issue.
I don’t think either Romney or Obama ever directly mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian issue, which hovers in the middle distance as a motivating force behind so much of the world’s turmoil, just as it does on “Homeland.” (They discussed Israel, but only in the bizarre context demanded by American electoral politics, that being the question of which candidate loves it more passionately.) As with China, there is little or nothing to be done given current conditions, and both candidates presumably agree on something that cannot be spoken aloud: A two-state solution between the Israelis and Palestinians, which has been proposed and partway negotiated numerous times since the 1930s and remains official global policy, is pretty much dead in the water.
Remarkably enough, right-wing Israeli settlers, left-wing academics and the militants of Hamas all agree that the only viable future for Israel and the Palestinian territories is as a single state. They don’t all imagine the same kind of “one-state solution,” to be sure, and both options – the segregated and militarized Pax Judaica of the status quo, or a de-Zionized, binational state that would lose its distinctive Jewish identity – have all the election-season appeal of a poodle turd on the Persian carpet. The only time I’ve felt a glimmer of something close to liking for Mitt Romney came during the infamous “47 percent” recording when he admitted to his millionaire donors in Gated Community Land that, as president, he could and would do nothing about the Israelis and Palestinians. People have accused Romney of wanting to “kick the can down the road,” but he didn’t say that. Instead, he said he would punt: