Composed During and Directly Following the Sept 30 Presidential Debate on International Policy and Homeland Security 3AM

- 30/09: The dank Egyptian air hangs hot and heavy as the next generation of self-selected foreign policy gurus settles in front of the TV to watch the live overseas broadcast of the first 2004 Presidential Debate. The smell of stale beer and cheap scotch coats the furniture like the ghosts of dead old men. I’m sitting in a big apartment in the Cairo district of Zamalek. Me and the hundred and twenty or so other 20somethings who wait anxiously for the Homeland Security sparks and War on Terror tremors to fly are one month into our study abroad program. Interestingly, we’re also just one month away from the most important election we’ve been alive for, and it seems, constantly just one step away from combusting in an uncontrolled and rampant national insanity. As the hour approaches and host Luke lays down the ground rules (“no talking, arguing, yelling, or being a dick during the debate!”) it’s impossible not to feel the it overwhelming the group. It is that intangible but constantly-present significance which makes base instincts come out during politically momentous occasions. It is that thing which makes you tell your 20-year old self, confident in your judgment of right and wrong and what that must mean, that you are willing to man up and take it outside if need be. It is that passion that the once-passionate relegate to youthful indulgence and the now-passionate demand they will keep forever. It is timeless, and does not give a good Goddamn which event or era it comes out in. With 120 warm bodies full of Cairo night, Sakkara beer, and comfort in their knowledge of tonight’s topic, you can bet that it is on full display tonight. On a couch across the way, a group of outspoken republicans makes a big “W” and yells, to which another couch responds with half-kidding calls of “neo-con fucks.” This is the circus, with PBS’s esteemed ringmaster Jim Lehrer to snap the whip. I settled back and wondered what I would see… * * *

As I sat there and watched the absurd preceding, I couldn’t help but gape, not at the moral villainy or Orwellian doublespeak of current American politics, but of the desperate confusion which is absolutely surrounding us and eating our souls. This confusion certainly has ramifications for this election, but most of all seems poised to completely alter the political dynamic for those of us premaritals over in Egypt, or Japan, or back in America, learning about the world and our place in it, and just starting to figure ourselves out now. What was most surprising and really, insane, about tonight’s debate was not to be found in the words of George Bush. Both his staunchly militaristic and morally defended positions and incredibly lack of eloquence were well-known and oft-quipped pillars of American popular culture. His ideological-empiricism-in-the-name-of-self-defense-andpreemptive-safety, an ideology that hails the glorious march of “freedom” into the world of the repressed and liberty-less as the categorical imperative of American power was, for him, nothing new. The callousness with which he levied the term “freedom,” the very definition of and situational applicability of which forms the core discussion of our great democracy, has no equal, save maybe Mel Gibson’s William Wallace in “Braveheart,” yet still this was more of the same. No, what was amazing was that the alternative presented to this depravity was a John F. Kerry, shrouded in the mantel of days gone by and Cold Warrior glory. His candor and demeanor were excellent, and it was clear that his Clinton-admin debate coaches had done their jobs well, yet his words could not help but feel like a harkening to the not-so-distant past. Less than half-way into the night, Kerry stated clearly and unequivocally that Kennedy and Reagan were models of his for having used preemptive military prowess successfully. He said he wished to “follow in their footsteps.” Excuse me? Did mine ears deceive me? Did Kerry, the democratic candidate, just reference Reagan, the man who ushered in the Reagan youth and a new era of hip young fiscal conservatism and hawkish international involvement? The strange connection to past republican presidents and policy did not stop there, either. In discussing the Iraq situation, the Boston Brahmin made sure to reference

the (according to Kerry) sagacious wisdom of George the Elder which avoided becoming an occupying force in the region. Then, when questioned as to his ability to truly secure American safety, JFK v.2004 dropped the E-bomb. Just having received his endorsement a day earlier, Kerry let the world know that John Eisenhower, son of the original Cold Warrior, was in his corner. Finally, when asked what the greatest threat to American security, he jumped straight to Nuclear Proliferation, saying that we needed to “contain” the spread of nukes across borders. The choice of worse was, in all likelihood, not arbitrary. The night came to an end as both candidates explained that it was imperative for the still-fledging Russian democracy to maintain its current institutions and restrain from implementing autocratic reforms, no matter what the dire circumstances seemed to require. Kerry, for sure, was the firmer of the two, and finished his time off with a quote from George F. Will, one of the most prominent conservative columnists in the country. So what’s the deal? Is John Kerry just a big jerkbox? A slippery politician, desirous only of his own ascendancy? Maybe. There’s a good chance, however, that he’s just reading the signs left by a hopelessly confused electorate teetering on the brink of insanity and nausea cause by a millennial cocktail of fear, self-preservation, misguided patriotism, and instability. The post-September 11th Bush era has been one in which the specter of harm ‘round the bend has ruled the roost. It has been a time in which the fear of loss and “so-you-better-do-this’s” has become the primary political currency. It is reinforced on TV daily, and it has been picked up by every politician seeking office. Many of our core values have not changed, but the way in which we perceive threats to our livelihood and our willing visceral response to these threats, in words and deed, is nothing short of staggering. There has never been an election in which a candidate opposing a socially conservative foreign-policy unilateralist could move effortlessly from defending the necessity and morality of stem-cell research and a woman’s right to choose to using the phrase “hunt down [our enemies] and kill them” three times without any apparent contradiction. Indeed, The strange character of this election is that it is one in which traditional party and ideological designations are coming apart at the seams and apparently,

everyone has a hand in multiple political pots. It is colored by libertarians who will vote Democrat for the first time in their life, frustrated by the extent of Bush’s involvement in foreign affairs and/or the degree to which faith-based initiatives are threatening the constitutional separation of church and state. It is peppered with socially liberal hawks leaning Bush because, “frankly, since 9/11, I haven’t cared about anything else.” Then there are the rest of us, the Anybody-but-Bushies, the Don’t-Give-a-Damns, and the Can’t-Stand-Any-of-Yous. What it all adds up to is a big chaotic soup of right-wingers, leftist activists, nutballs and weirdos all scrambling to figure out what to do next. “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Hunter S Thompson A month into Egypt and it seems like my generation is the most confused and insane of all. The Americans here are a self-selecting group, all desiring not only to understand this region that most people can only know through Fox News and CNN, but also willing to at least approximate cultural understanding by learning the language and placing ourselves in this peculiar situation. Beyond this, however, there is no consistency of purpose. Some here are avowed Bush conservatives, intent on proving to themselves the truth of that deep “desire for freedom” known so conclusively to GWB to be exhibit throughout the Middle East. Others are unabashed liberals, determined to undercut at least one more layer of media misrepresentation and learn about this new “other” of ours direct from the source. A bunch are nothing more than self-promoting soonto-be career politicians. They tend not to care that they’re here, per se, but only that after they’ve left, they have a piece of paper to prove to other people that they were here before. Still more are soon-to-be toughnosed marines. Orientalists assured of American cultural superiority, these few are interested in their recognition of their duty to fight and protect America from her “enemies”. As we sat and watched that first debate, all the groups were well represented. Indeed, in each of these groups, that precarious it is there, but how it should and will manifest itself in the years to come will be our great question and our great responsibility. My optimism and faith in these people often runs short, but a friend of mine tells me that “it takes all kinds,” and maybe that’s what our great American ideal of “freedom” really means, most simply put.

Yes, we are young and with wind in our sails. We still possess the potential of time and hope. What’s more, the luckiest and most doomed among us possess that indefatigable naivety which assures us that we can cure all ills and right all wrongs, and that destiny is a thing of our design.

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