For the past few months, names such as Rick Perry and Herman Cain have been ubiquitous in every news publication. Most of the coverage deals with scandals, sound bites and gaffes as opposed to any policy platforms. Over the years, around election time, the American electorate shifts its focus from considering candidates’ platforms and credentials to scrutinizing personality traits and partaking in gossip. While this provides for highly entertaining Saturday Night Live sketches, it detracts from our understanding of what these candidates are actually promoting.
For instance, many accredit Perry’s infamous “oops” gaffe at the CNBC debate to how his entire campaign will be remembered. In Perry’s latest debate faux pas, when questioned about the three areas of government he would cut, he failed to remember the third governmental department and sealed his fate with a simple, “Oops!” Indeed, this mistake was unprofessional and elucidates Perry’s severe lack of public-speaking skills. Yet so much attention was paid to his forgetting the third department that the comprehensible part of his answer, that he would eliminate the departments of commerce and education, was ignored.
More attention should be paid to the fact that Perry called for the elimination of the Department of Education despite the controversial state of our public education system. As highlighted by political pundit Fareed Zakaria, America has drastically fallen behind many other countries in terms of educational proficiency. Furthermore, teachers are facing job uncertainty as states implement budget cuts. Perry’s education policy requires greater attention than a simple lapse of the mind. After all, past debates have demonstrated his lackluster public speaking skills.
Cain is facing a great deal of media attention for the sexual harassment allegations that seem to increase in number each week. Undoubtedly, sexual harassment is morally repugnant and furthers a system of misogyny in our society. These allegations should be noted, but the extent to which the allegations have been debated and reported overshadows Cain’s policy platforms and eligibility to serve as president. And with the rousing scandal and easy-to-digest sound bites including “9-9-9,” many are ignoring Cain’s glaring lack of knowledge about crucial governmental issues, particularly foreign policy.
Recently, the news magazine Foreign Policy released an interview fumbling over a basic question about Libya, one of the central issues of foreign policy at the moment. Reporters asked Cain whether he agrees with the actions Obama took in Libya, referencing American support of the NATO-enforced no-fly zone. After struggling to recall what exactly the issue in Libya was, Cain produced a muddled and unconnected response, clearly illustrating that he had little to no knowledge of the situation.
In addition, Cain implied that knowing the president of “Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan” was irrelevant to presidency, calling details about foreign policy details “gotcha questions.” Admittedly, I don’t know the president of Uzbekistan, but I also am not running to be president of the United States. To serve as a leader of the free world, one must be well-versed in foreign relations, including crucial international issues involving the United States such as the Palestinian Right of Return. Cain belittles the importance of foreign policy, and at the moment, all the media attention he is generating equally belies his lack of foreign policy knowledge. Though the sexual harassment allegations must be evaluated, his supporters and critics must give greater attention to his credentials for presidency than they are right now.
The misallocation of media attention can be attributed to the fact that political discourse has become too personal. The electorate places its focus on personality and scandal as opposed to substance and policy, leading to an overemphasis on Michele Bachmann’s “crazy eyes,” as opposed to her policy positions. CNN will host yet another Republican debate Tuesday, focusing on foreign policy and national defense. Hopefully, viewers will gain a better understanding of the candidates’ policies rather than material for bad jokes.
Waliany is a Plan II and government senior.