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September 30, 2016

US Presidential Debate: Volleys of Lies and Meaningless Agendas

By: Dr. Arshad M Khan


Presidential candidates' agendas are meaningless under a recalcitrant Congress.

Imagine a volleyball packed with lies being bounced back and forth across a net by
one well-practiced in the art of mendacity and the other blissfully unaware of any
truth. Then add a referee correcting the lies of one side but not the other, and you
have a picture of the debate. The post-debate spin-masters on both sides are busy
pushing their candidate as the winner.

In a culture of competitiveness and winning, who won is the paramount question.
Polling organizations might try to conduct a scientific poll. But that requires
constructing a random sample representative of the audience and then polling -- a
process estimated at three days in the least. No one wants to wait that long. So
immediately after the debate, supporters of each side and like-minded experts/pundits
proclaim their candidate the winner.

Trump also claims victory based on dubious website polls, and the other side cites a
pseudo-scientific CNN poll of mostly Democrats.

The debate moderator, ABC's prime time news anchor Lester Holt, did not press
Hillary Clinton on her description of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, as the
"gold standard" when she pushed it as U.S. Secretary of State. She now claims to be
against it. On the other hand, Holt, who is black, really dug into Trump on the "birther"
issue – the assertion he pursued for many years that Obama was not born in the U.S.
and thus not a legitimate president (the constitution requires a president to be over
35 years old and native-born.) Despite Obama's birth certificate, the issue was
pressed repeatedly in the media by Trump for about five years.Trump's economic
plans are to cut the corporate tax rate and the individual marginal rate which helps
mostly the wealthy, the former to help repatriate funds held overseas and both to
encourage investment. It has been tried before, but how it will help infrastructure
which he also cited is not clear. The creaky trains from the fifties, the pot-holed roads,
the dangerous bridges, old airports, et cetera, need public investment and thus more
taxes, not less. Clinton's plan is more traditional, fact-checked, and equally unlikely in
meaningful impact.

Trump's foreign agenda constitutes better trade deals and having allies pay more for
their own defense. With China owning over a trillion dollars of U.S. Treasury debt,
best of luck Mr. Trump on your trade negotiations. Perhaps the real world might one
day intrude on the surreal. And as the Europeans are now keen on developing their
own Euro defense force, the Trump plan might provide just the impetus it needs.
Drawing out the fangs of a belligerent NATO could be a welcome outcome for those of
us who prefer a world of peace.

Hillary's foreign policy is high-end department store potpourri generating the
approved aromas of the establishment. Truth be told, it is only different in accenting
one scent over another to a small degree. As Trump pointed out in his most
devastating critique of the night – although he failed to press home the advantage –
she has been at it for 26 years and the problems have simply magnified.

While the U.S. presidency has subsumed increasing powers on the war front in recent
years, it is in fact one of the weakest offices among developed countries' heads of
government. A U.S. president cannot offer legislation – he has to rely on the good
offices of his party members in Congress.

An example of the power of Congress was evident this week: It passed a bill allowing
9/11 victims' families to sue Saudi Arabia, as 19 out of 20 hijackers were Saudi.
President Obama, opposed to the bill, vetoed it. The Senate overrode the veto by
mustering a two-thirds majority in support, and the bill has been enacted into law.

The House is at present Republican and will remain so. It is also fraught with the ire of
"Tea Party" young Turks chafing at the bit for an extreme right-wing agenda. The
Senate is also not in the hands of Democrats, and with a distinct possibility of
Republican control continuing after the November election.

The Republican establishment cannot stand Hillary Clinton and does not like Donald
Trump. To the extent neither is likely to find a supportive Congress, talk of their
respective agendas is just that – meaningless talk ... and a lot of hot air.

Dr. Arshad M Khan ( is a former professor. A
frequent contributor to the print and electronic media, his work has been quoted in the
U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.