The last of the American presidential debates were held last night. Domestic issues dominated, in no small part because the debate was supposed to be limited to them, but on occasion foreign affairs entered the discussion, most often in reference to international trade. All three debates dealt with a host of issues, except one: the Chinese Communist Party. The lack of attention to the regime looking to replace us as the world's leading power was stunning, and one that the American people (and even the candidates themselves) are sure to regret.
There are many reasons why the CCP should be an issue per se in our national discourse. They are building up their military for no other purpose than to challenge our position in East Asia. They have alliances with some of the most tyrannical and anti-American regimes on the planet, including many terrorist-sponsoring entities. Their rank efforts at using violence to silence opposition in New York City (Epoch Times) should frighten anyone who values freedom of speech in the United States of America.
However, they also have - at least - a tangential role in the dominant issues of the campaign. Already there is talk of Communist Chinese money "bailing out" our ailing financial sector (BBC), which would enable the regime to meddle in American economic and political affairs like never before. Meanwhile, Pakistan - America's most tenuous ally in the War on Terror and one of the most contentious issues of the campaign - is once again looking to its oldest ally for help, the CCP (Washington Post).
Despite all of this we are seeing another election in which neither major-party candidate chooses to make the Communist Chinese regime an issue. Why?
First, there is history. Mao Zedong caused his country and his regime a lot of damage, but his greatest gift to his political heirs was his decision to tilt towards Washington in the early 1970s. That move continues to pay dividends more than thirty-five years later, despite the above facts. It has led to an entire political clique that is deeply vested in the fantasy that a quarrel between Mao and Leonid Brezhnev is somehow an opening to a "new" China. Thus, Communist China's human rights abuses (American Scholar and Epoch Times) ad rampant corruption (Epoch Times) are all swept under the rug.
Second, there is politics - in this case, the unique politics of modern anti-Communism. The Mao shift suddenly meant anti-Communists in America had to carve out an exception for Beijing. For most voters, the exception was purely conditional and temporary. For others, it had a more permanent effect. This division was especially obvious in the Republican Party - where the "establishment" was clearly more taken with Beijing as an American ally (however weak) than the GOP right wing. As the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, this division moved to the front burner, but even as the conservative wing of the party moved into the establishment in the 1990s, anti-Communists were largely left out in the cold.
Meanwhile, Mao's move soured many left-wing Democrats on Beijing. That led to a strong anti-CCP sentiment among Democrats in the 1980s, to the point where Bill Clinton could actually claim to be more anti-Communist than President George H. W. Bush in 1992. Clinton, as history sows us, turned his back on the Democratic left - including the anti-Communists in it - and made the Democratic establishment as slavish to "engagement" as the Republican establishment.
The result is one of the more unusual ideological alignments in America: one where right and left stand against the center. Yet both party establishments still listen to their centrist factions, so the divided anti-Communist majority is left almost entirely disenfranchised.
Still, there is ample reason to believe this cannot continue. For starters, the CCP's role in both the financial sector and in Pakistan will lead more politicians to wonder if Beijing really does have our interests at heart. When they realize the answer is no, questions will be asked, polls will be taken, and someone will notice that this is an issue that is pertinent, critical, urgent, and (unfortunately, this is vital) a potential way to peel votes away from the insert-name-here Administration.
Secondly, there are whispers that Communist China's white-hot (and somewhat overhyped) economy may be slowing down (David Frum), ensuring far more problems for the regime in dealing with the Chinese people and a much greater likelihood that said regime will resort to geopolitical chicanery in order to use the radical nationalism card. After all, there is still the issue of what diplomats call the Republic of China (and the rest of us call Taiwan), and the Communist Chinese regime's plans to conquer it.
The next President will likely be forced to face the danger of the CCP whether he likes it or not. On the plus side, this makes it much more likely that the election of 2012 will be the chance for anti-Communism to find its voice in one of the major parties. Unfortunately, the Communist regime can do a lot of damage in the intervening four years.