2015 has been a particularly violent year in the U.S. Since Jan. 1, there have been 353 mass shootings in the U.S. However, none of the shooters got the attention given to Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashleen Malik, the married couple who on Dec. 2 killed 14 people and injured 22 more at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, where Farook worked.
Previous killers, mostly American-born, white Christians, inspired nothing more than (ineffective) calls for gun control from the political Left and “thoughts and prayers” from the political Right. The crimes of the Farooks, a Muslim couple possibly inspired by jihadist groups like ISIS, led to a rare prime-time, Presidential address from the Oval Office, where President Barack Obama called the shooting an act of terrorism.
President Obama’s reaction to the San Bernardino shooting was characteristically mild, especially in comparison to those of other American politicians or the American media. They encouraged and exploited the American people’s fear and anxiety about terror attacks against the Homeland, which after San Bernardino were at the highest level since 911.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton delivered a speech in which she outlined her approach to fighting terrorism. She also criticized Republican politicians who even before San Bernardino were doing their best to make political hay out of the American people’s fear of foreign terrorism. Clinton was particularly critical of GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who caused a sensation when he suggested that Muslims be barred from entering the USA.
I usually avoid Republican presidential debates - I have to watch my blood pressure - but the fifth GOP debate of 2015 (held Dec. 15, after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino) were “must see television.”
In addition to Trump, the debate featured former Governor Jeb Bush; retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson; Governor Chris Christie; former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina; Governor John Kasich; Senator Rand Paul; Senator Marco Rubio; and Senator Ted Cruz Though Trump was at his bombastic worst, each of the candidates tried his or her best to be the toughest one on terror; certainly tougher than Obama or Clinton.
Trump wanted to kill the families of terrorists and close parts of the Internet in Iraq and Syria. Cruz promised to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa. Christie offered to create a “no-fly zone” over parts of Syria and bomb Russian planes who flew over it. (Though Russia is also fighting ISIS, anti-Russian sentiment is always popular with right wing jingoes - Kasich also suggested that it is time we “punched the Russians in the nose.”)
Only Rand Paul seems to exhibit any sense or sanity, criticizing his opponents’ eagerness to lead their nation to World War III. All the candidates criticized “political correctness” as well as the Democrats’ interest in other issues such as climate change.
To the GOP wannabes, fighting ISIS is the only fight that matters and they hope to carry that fight right into the White House. As New York Times Magazine contributor Ana Marie Cox tweeted, “This wasn’t a ‘foreign policy’ debate, or even a ‘national security’ debate. It was [a] contest about who could tell the scariest story.”
If the Republican candidates for president wanted to scare the American people, they certainly succeeded. But their scare tactics did not make us more fearful of ISIS or al-Qaeda. They scared us with the thought of what they might do if, God forbid, one of them becomes President of the United States. Terrorism is a serious matter, but it deserves a better response than that given by the GOP candidates.