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Oppenheim: Paris and Politics

Just hours after learning about the attacks in France, I went out to dinner with my wife on Church Street in Burlington.

The scene was relaxed, festive - pretty normal really - but I kept thinking about what it would be like if we came under attack here.

I know that sounds improbable, but what was in my head was what it would feel like if a coordinated attack could happen here at work, at a concert, at a sports event - if dining out on Church Street meant that I –and my loved ones - could be taking a risk, exposing ourselves to the possibility of terrorism?

A day later as I watched the second Democratic presidential debate, that mindset was still with me.

Hillary Clinton fended off repeated jabs from both Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, notably that in 2002 as senator from New York, she voted in favor of the Iraq War resolution.

But to me, the most pressing question now is how well any candidate can play not just on a debate stage, but on the world stage, someone who really can help stop the escalating attacks against civilians.

And mind you, these attacks are not only happening in the west, they’re happing in the Middle East too. Beirut was also a target last week.

The area of politics and policy where Bernie Sanders stands out is on issues like income inequality and breaking up the big banks. During this past debate, he repeatedly returned to his view of a profoundly lopsided America.

It’s a message that’s galvanized his candidacy, and resonated particularly with young voters. But in the context of a scarier world, it may now seem narrow and limiting.

Personally, I want to hear informed responses to charges that western intelligence agencies can’t keep up with the number of radicalized terrorists potentially planning more attacks.

We’ve just been reminded that whatever else this campaign is about, it’s also about choosing the next leader of the free world, and Clinton’s fluency in the details of foreign policy may work to her advantage.

For the moment at least, the conversation has shifted. Every candidate must now work to convince voters that he or she can fight ISIS, can handle Putin, can lead us with balance and intelligence in a less secure world.

Because in the end, the message from Paris and Beirut is no longer about bad things happening in far away places. It’s about bad things happening just about anywhere.

Keith Oppenheim, Associate Professor in Broadcast Media Production at Champlain College, has been with the college since 2014. Prior to that, he coordinated the broadcasting program at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan (near Grand Rapids). Keith was a correspondent for CNN for 11 years and worked as a television news reporter in Providence, Scranton, Sacramento and Detroit. He produces documentaries, and his latest project, Noyana - Singing at the end of life, tells the story of a Vermont choir that sings to hospice patients.
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