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Current Issues and Events Essay

The Essay

Since essay writing is at the heart of primary and secondary composition curriculum, this manual will not detail in depth this particular form of discourse. Hundreds of textbooks are available that can outline and describe it far better than we can here.

However, it is important to be reminded that the purpose of the essay is to communicate information. The essay should be clear and to the point, generally constructed as a topic sentence, followed by supporting detail, followed by a concluding sentence that expands the original reference. Padding an answer with needless repetition, pretentious wording or irrelevant detail will hurt more than help.

The essay may analyze and interpret, but should not editorialize. The nature of expository writing requires the writer to enhance the reader's understanding of a subject by analyzing its parts and interpreting its meaning. It's one thing to know that an election was held in Iraq. It's another thing to understand what the election means.

Because you will not be allowed to bring research material into the room, your essays will not be as detailed as they might otherwise be. However, we expect you to be able to recite basic blocks of information.

Consider the following prompt:

Jeremy Bowen, Middle East editor for the BBC, wrote, “The Americans are discovering that the problem with democracy is that it can produce results that you don't like.” Explain how this truth has vexed and continues to vex the Bush administration.

Okay, now think of all the countries whose elections have produced governments not necessarily friendly to the United States. Here are a few: Iran, Palestine, Venezuela, Bolivia, Jordan, Egypt, even Afghanistan.

Now, think. Do you understand the prompt? What does it mean that these democratic elections have produced governments unfriendly to the U.S.? What are the implications? Spend at least five minutes outlining your essay and thinking it through. This will add substance and focus and eliminate redundancy.

Now, begin writing. Open with a declarative statement. Don't regurgitate the prompt. Support the opening with specific examples. Work on transitional or directional words. The essay should have a clear, organized, logical order, and information should flow from one idea to the next.

No fancy words. No “out of the blue” quotes. No weird allusions or metaphors. No tortured sentence structures. Strive for clarity and depth.

Here's an excellent essay:

In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq and the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration has justified the enormous financial, human and diplomatic costs by saying it is spreading secular, liberal, Western-style democracy to people who deserve it and have been denied it.

No doubt, democracy is rare in the Middle East, and if democratic principles can take root in Iraq, the implications for the rest of the region are profound. At the same time, free elections in the region and elsewhere in the world can mean more headaches — not fewer — for Washington and the West. For example, free elections in Bolivia and Venezuela have produced leaders generally seen as anti-American.

Of course, the most obvious examples exist in the Middle East. First and foremost: Palestine. Hamas, which the U.S. government views as a terrorist organization, defeated Yassar Arafat's Fatah Party in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, illustrating the trend in the Middle East of radical Islamists gaining legitimacy through democratic means. But they were voted into office not to wage war with Israel but to end Fatah corruption, extend social welfare to the poorest Palestinians and achieve basic goals of peace and prosperity.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood scored massive electoral gains, pointing out that free elections anywhere in the Middle East will most likely result in Islamist governments, although not necessarily fundamentalist theocracies. In Jordan and Morocco, Islamic parties have scored significant political elections. In Afghanistan, former Taliban members won numerous seats in the newly-created Parliament.

And it's worth mentioning that Iran's elections, although tightly controlled by the Ayatollahs, resulted in the election of a president who has called for the destruction of Israel and the U.S. and seems determined to join the world's nuclear powers and create a Middle East missile crisis.

It's still to early to tell what might happen in Iraq, but the great fear is that free elections will divide the country along sectarian lines rather than unite the country, and it will descend into civil war.

Finally, some question whether in the long run democracy in the region is worth the perils. The Bush administration must worry that once radical Islamic groups gain power, they will abandon democracy and impose a fundamentalist Muslim theocracy.

Certainly, it has happened before. At the same time, the U.S. and the Western democracies can hope that free elections will moderate otherwise radical Islamists, that once they are responsible for bread-and-butter issues like jobs, government transparency, police protection, health care, education and the like, they'll be too busy collecting the garbage and running day-care centers to wage war or attempting to impose their fundamentalists views of Islam.

Let's look at another prompt:

Essay Question: Ross K. Baker of USA Today wrote, "Republicans in the White House and Congress who are facing a host of legal and ethical problems resemble a patient suffering from multiple, but unrelated, ailments who might be able to fight off one affliction but is ultimately killed by the debilitating effects of all of them." Explain the various "afflictions" now troubling the GOP.

Okay, outline the points you want to make in your essay. Basically, they fall into three groups:

  1. The war in Iraq
  2. Katrina
  3. Corruption and cronyism

Next, let's flesh out each category.

Iraq

The Bush administration has had to defend itself against charges that it misled the U.S. into the war. Weapons of mass destruction have not been found, nor has credible evidence linking Saddam to 9/11 or al-Qaeda. In the meantime, the death toll has surpassed 2,500, sectarian violence has increased, and Iraq has become a magnet for jihadists across the region. Furthermore, allegations of torture and prisoner abuse have damaged U.S. image worldwide.

The war on terror has also been sidetracked by reports of Bush-ordered domestic spying by the National Security Administration without court warrants.

Katrina

The federal response to Hurricane Katrina was seen as indifferent and incompetent, and Bush appeared particularly detached from the reality on the ground. His "you're doing a heck of a job, Brownie," made him seem particularly out of touch with the disaster taking place in New Orleans, especially among poor people of color. The response opened old wounds regarding race and class in America.

Corruption and Cronyism

Tom DeLay is indicted of criminal conspiracy and resigns. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleads guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. GOP Congressman Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham resigns from the House and pleads guilty to conspiring to take bribes. Vice presidential aide ‘Scooter’ Libby is indicted for his role in the outing of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, whose husband was a vocal critic of the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.

Other Factors

  • soaring costs and bureaucratic bungling of the Medicare prescription drug plan
  • rising fuel costs and Exxon-Mobil record profits for 2005
  • botched nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme court
  • failure to pass meaningful Social Security reform
  • federal budget deficit and pork barrel spending by GOP-controlled Congress

Okay, we have no shortage of material. Let's just stick with the top three: Iraq, Katrina, corruption.

Now, it's time to write. Open with a statement that declares something, that goes beyond the prompt. Again, don't rewrite the prompt. Don't write, “Republicans in the White House and Congress are facing a host of legal and ethical problems. These problems resemble a patient suffering from multiple, but unrelated, ailments who might be able to fight off one affliction but is ultimately killed by the debilitating effects of all of them.”

Also, don't rant and rave. “Republicans may face some legal and ethical problems, but it's nothing like the Clinton administration, which was the most corrupt in the history of the world. And most of these phony, trumped-up charges against President Bush come from Democrats, the Dixie Chicks and the liberal media, all of whom hate freedom and just want to blame America first. The President is doing the best job he can protecting us from terrorists, and everyone should shut up and let him do his job because if we don't, then you can expect to see airliners slamming into a skyscraper near you.”

Well, that was therapeutic but not very insightful. Here's a better opening paragraph:

“Since his narrow victory over John Kerry in the ‘04 presidential election, President Bush has seen his approval ratings plummet, dragged down by an increasing unpopular war in Iraq, a tepid response to Katrina, and a series of charges of corruption and cronyism in Congress and the White House.”

Now, you need to support your opening statement. Again, collect your ideas, state them briefly, then move on. Don't ramble. Don't repeat yourself. End with a brief summary that brings the essay full circle.

Here's the rest of the essay:

Though the President insists it's important to “stay the course,” Americans are expressing doubt in a war that was wrongly predicated on weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. With the death toll of U.S. soldiers surpassing 2,500, the war appears to be evolving into sectarian civil war. Critics claim the U.S. presence in Iraq is a magnet for terrorists and threatens to destabilize the entire Middle East. The photographs from Abu Ghraib and the revelations that Bush ordered domestic spying by the National Security Administration without court warrants have helped further erode support for the war.

Furthermore, critics claim Bush and Rumsfeld have no exit strategy, and that the war has stretched the U.S. military beyond its limits, making it difficult for America to respond to possible threats in Iran or North Korea.

Domestically, the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina appeared incompetent at best, indifferent at the worst. It exposed old wounds regarding class and race.

Finally, the Republican Party is fighting a succession of legal battles. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was indicted and resigned because of charges of criminal conspiracy. Lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials. GOP Congressman Randy ‘Duke’ Cunningham resigned from the House and pleaded guilty to conspiring to take bribes. Vice presidential aide ‘Scooter’ Libby was indicted for his role in the outing of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame, whose husband was a vocal critic of the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.

Toss in the botched nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, rising fuel costs and an exploding federal deficit, and it's no surprise that moderate Democrats are winning statewide elections, President Bush's approval ratings are in the low 30s, and the GOP is almost on life support.

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