Tag: 2012 US election

Why I Voted for Barack Obama Today

Amazing how the Simpsons is still pretty funny after 25 years…

 

In the interest of full disclosure, I thought I’d list the reasons why I voted the way I did. I know conservative media regularly accuse professors of politicizing the classroom, but an honest discussion of why one chooses the way one did can also be useful exercise of citizenship. (See Drezner for an example of what I was thinking of.) So with that goal, not demagoguery, in mind, here we go:

1. The Tea Party Scares Me

This is easily the most important reason for me. Regular readers of my own blog will know that I vote in the Republican primary and write regularly about the Republican party, but almost never about the Democrats. (Even in Korea where I live, my sympathies are with the conservatives.) I don’t see myself as a Democrat. I see myself as a moderate Republican, like Andrew Sullivan or (less so) David Frum. Unfortunately, the Tea Party has made the GOP very inhospitable for moderates.

Given Romney’s propensity to blow with the ideological wind rather than stake a claim somewhere, I think it is likely he’ll get bullied by the hard right once in office. Following Kornacki, my problem with Romney is not his ideology – because I don’t know what that is – but the party from which he stems, run, as it is, by increasingly radical, Christianist, southern right-wingers. I find it simply impossible to vote for a party so contemptuous of science, so willing to violate church-state distinctions, so committed to a heavily armed citizenry, so obsessed with regulating sex, so strutting and belligerent toward the rest of the world, so unwilling to compromise on taxes to close the deficit, etc. Hint to the RNC: the rest of the country is not Dixie; please stop dragging us down this road. This southernization of the GOP in the last 20 years has made it harder and harder for me to vote for national Republicans, even though I vote for them a lot in Ohio. Not surprisingly, I find Andrew Sullivan’s conservatism quite congenial.

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Five Election-Explaining Clichés I really don’t want to hear this Tuesday

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On Interstate 71, south of Columbus; Ohio’s most famous sign

 

So it’s election time, which means CNN, etc. will be filled with pundits with only the vaguest credentials – never any PhDs Sad smile – telling you why the outcome inevitably had to be such-and-such. (Retrodiction is so insufferably smug.) And they’ll explain it as if these tired clichés are real insights and not the same flim-flam they pedal every November.

So let me predict the future: here are the five worst clichés you’ll hear Tuesday – the lamest, most recycled, simplistic, and least analytically useful (because they’re so flexible they can explain almost any outcome).

Save yourself hours of Donna Brazile and David Gergen right now; just roll these out at Thanksgiving dinner to impress the relatives:

1. Ohio, or the white, blue-collar voter theory of everything 

Every four years the media runs the same easy, generic storyline about my state (Economist 2004, 2008, 2012; FT) that goes something like this: ‘these grizzled veterans of America’s economic dislocation cleave to their guns and religion but increasingly live in suburbs and see their kids work in tech plants outside Columbus or Dayton. The large urban populations of Cleveland and Cincinnati are balanced by the church-going rural voters in the god’s country of southeastern Appalachia…’ Yawn. And it goes on like that for pages. Most of these articles make sure to cite the above picture. And yes, that sign is for real; I’ve seen it. It’s on the same road that leads to the Creation Museum (no joke either – I’ve been there), but thankfully that’s over the river in Kentucky. I guess they go to the dentist even less often than we do.

The thing is, we get all this attention for 3-4 months before every election – but then nothing afterwards. So how much can they can take us seriously as a swing state? In 2004, Rove drove up GOP turnout with the Defense of Marriage Act ballot issue and terrorism. In 2008, Clinton and Obama told us they were going to amend NAFTA and reduce illegal immigration to save our jobs. This year, Romney and Obama promise to defend us against China. If you’re keeping score, that means there should be no homosexual Mexican terrorists driving NAFTA-certified trucks on Chinese tires around Ohio. Ah yes, Ohio, that clichéd, right-wing blue-collar paradise!

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3rd Presidential Debate, Foreigner Version: If you’re not an American, you’re Mentally Ill or something

Did anyone else find the third presidential debate just appallingly narcissistic and self-congratulatory? Good lord. Good thing America is around to show you bubble-headed foreigners the way to freedom. I could run through all the offensive, ‘America-is-tasked-with-upholding-the-mantle-of-liberty’ patronizing condescension, but why bother? (Nexon does a nice job here.) I told my students to watch it, and in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have. It was so embarrassing, and in class this week I kept trying to explain why we talk down to the rest of the world like this while my students rolled their eyes in disgust.

I keep saying this – running around the world telling people how exceptional and bound-to-lead we are is a great way to alienate the planet and convince them of exactly the opposite – to not to follow us. We’d have a much easier time with the world if we could back off the blustery, Fox News nationalism and actually speak maturely. But Americans couldn’t give a damn about the rest of the world, no matter how much we posture about our world historic role to lead it.  Our ODA totals are disgrace for a coutnry as wealthy as we are. We don’t learn languages much. The only time we worry about casualties in the war on terror is when they are own; our clear disinterest for all the collateral damage we have done since 9/11 speak volumes to the rest of the planet.

So instead, here is the debate foreigners heard:

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VP Debate once again tells the World that all We care about is the Middle East


Yes, it’s partisan, but it’s a somewhat useful deconstruction

First, I included the above video to reference a point I tried to make earlier – that Romney flip-flopped so much in the first debate that I no longer have any idea what he thinks about the big issues of campaign. I just wish I knew wth Romney wants to do with the presidency. There has to be some purpose, some reason to vote for him, and I can’t find it. Someone tell me in a few coherent, specifics-laden paragraphs why I should vote for him? Not why Obama is a bad president – I know that already – but why Romney should be president. Honestly, I don’t know, which makes his presidential run look like a vanity project or something.

Second, did anyone else think that the vice-presidential debate once again broadcast to the world that our foreign policy is dominated by the Middle East? It was all about Iran, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan. Obviously, these are all important places and issues. But it doesn’t take a lot of foreign policy training to know that Russia’s ever-more erratic course under Czar Putin, a possible euro-EU meltdown, or China are a lot more important to the US’ future than a bunch of small, poor fractured states in the Middle East. But no, let’s argue once again about Israel, Iran, terrorism, Iraq…  Good grief. There are other issues out there…

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If Flip-Flopping is a GOP Cardinal Sin, How can you Vote for Romney after that first Debate?

George W Bush practically built his re-election effort against John Kerry on the idea that even if you disagreed with him, you consistently knew where he stood on stuff. That commercial above is famous. And the US right in general loves that sort of macho grandstanding on behalf of American will in the face of wimpy, carping detractors – usually Europeans, academics, and liberals, ideally combined. Remember ‘freedom fries’?

Palin and McCain struck the same pose in 2008 (‘I would much rather lose a campaign than a war’), and so did lots of Tea Party candidates in 2010 and in the 2012 GOP primary. Remember when Perry even said, “I’ll be for water-boarding until the day I die”? And Fox talks like this all the time, as if Hannity were the last bastion of American bootstrap ideals against a rising tide of liberals, illegal immigrants, and Muslims. So if the Tea Party right loves this ‘let’s-go-down-with-the-ship-on-behalf-of-principle’ posture, how can one possibly support Romney after he flip-flopped all over the place in the first debate last week?

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A Pre-Post-Mortem on Romney’s Defeat

47-percent-e1348073613111

It increasingly looks like Romney is gonna lose. Intratrade now puts that likelihood at 75%. Now it’s my understanding from the American politics subfield, in which I took exactly zero courses in grad school, that the state of the economy is supposed to be the great determiner of American elections. But somehow Romney can’t seem to win despite 8+% unemployment. So I’ll take that as a methodological opening for wild speculation – namely my own – masquerading as rigorous theory.

Given my masterful background in this field, which includes watching Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, still getting Fox News in my cable package even though I don’t live in the US (stop chasing me!), and having been a Congressional district slave staffer (Republican) 15 years years ago, here’s my take. And no, I have no great proof to back up these instincts, but as George W Bush’s decision-making style taught me, my gut is enough, and ‘data,’ or whatever you ‘academics’ call it, is for wusses. “We’re an empire now; we make our our reality,” and here’s mine:

1. That 47% video just killed him.

Wow. The polling after this just collapsed. The desperate ‘me too-ism’ of Fox News in response spoke volumes about how destructive that leak was. Scrounging up any dated recording of Obama also saying something dumb (or not) and then trying for 2 weeks to balloon it into an ‘affront to all Americans’ to stir indignation was just embarrassing. I wonder if O’Reilly and Hannity can say to Roger Ailes or Rupert Murdoch once in awhile, that some conspiracy-mongering is just too ridiculous even for them. If some old, vague Obama comment on ‘redistribution,’ which the government has been doing for almost a century, is now cause enough for GOP ‘outrage’ (ever noticed that Fox is always ‘outraged,’ btw?), then they’re effectively repudiating more than half the budget. Even in the GOP, I don’t think eliminating redistribution is majority opinion, and there’s no way the electorate will go for that, as it essentially re-writes the social contract on something –  a basic safety net – that most American simply assume now. Maybe Romney should apologize? I dunno; politicians do it in Asia sometimes. But doubling-down on that remark, as he has, is a sure-fire loser.

2. He can’t be who he really is, because the Tea Party holds him hostage.

I still think that the conventional wisdom that Romney is a moderate, trying to fool both himself and his party that he’s not, is correct. Even though the 47% tape looks like ‘smoking gun’ evidence that Romney is a clone of Jamie Dimon, I still don’t think so. Chait makes the strong point that Romney sounds like a ‘sneering plutocrat’ on the tape. Yeah, it’s pretty hard to get around that interpretation. But if I had to guess, I bet he was just saying what he thought they wanted to hear. Anyone who’s ever worked in an American campaign cycle knows the enormous pressure on candidates to pander to the mega-donors (as in the Romney vid) who make our campaigns possible (all the more reason for dramatic campaign finance reform, but that’s another story).

My own sense, still, is that Romney is moderate non-ideologue and probably not a wing-nut. I had affiliations with the Ohio GOP throughout the 1990s, and most of the people I knew were reasonable and sane, but under constant pressure from the right-wing to say/do outrageous stuff. It was always a battle to fend off some group insisting that the 10 Commandments be hung in member’s office, that the UN was taking over America, or called CNN the ‘Communist News Network.’ (All true stories.)
Instead, I think Bruni is right that the process of running for president has so distorted Romney that he just doesn’t know what to say anymore. He’s so desperate to win, so frustrated he can’t get traction against a weak president in a terrible economy, so flummoxed that his CV from the ‘real world’ doesn’t obviously out-stack a community organizer who somehow became president. So he’ll say almost anything anymore.

He wants to be a moderate who had a decent, centrist record as Massachusetts governor. He’s almost certainly proud that he put through ‘RomneyCare’ in Massachusetts (his signature achievement as guv), speaks French (who isn’t pleased they can speak a foreign language?), and turned around a major government project – the Olympics (that’s a huge achievement). But now he can’t say any of that, because the ideological right and its media network won’t abide it. Instead, he’s reduced to transparent, shameful phoniness like teasing Obama for worrying about global warming, when someone as educated as Romney obviously knows that science is not some liberal plot.

In short, he’s been running for president for so long, he’s so desperate, that he’ll say almost anything to anyone; he’s lost himself in this mess and doesn’t really know what he thinks anymore. And the voters have picked up on this and can’t figure out who he is (like Nixon in 1960). It’s sad actually, that a pubic servant with Romney’s reasonable credentials must pander so bad he loses respect for himself. It reminds me of Condoleezza Rice, a realist for 20 years, who suddenly ‘saw the light’ of neoconservatism when in power. Yeah, right – having direct access to POTUS every day had nothing to do with that.

This is yet another reason why the agonizingly long US election process is so awful. Most importantly, the horse-race element of it distracts government from governing for huge stretches of time. But it also wrecks the integrity of almost everyone who runs for high office, Romney included, sadly.

3. He comes across like Gordon Gekko just 3 years after the Great Recession.

Even if he isn’t a plutocrat at heart (maybe not) or a winger (probably not), he comes off just awful. Romney really needs lessons from the Bill Clinton ‘I-feel-your-pain’/George W Bush ‘who-would-rather-have-a-beer-with’ school of campaigning. I realize this is terribly shallow. Exactly what difference for government does it make if W comes across like ‘Dubya,’ while Kerry is a windsurfing dork? None at all. To this day, I still resent how the media read Al Gore’s earnest, over-read wonkiness as a flaw (?!!), while embracing W’s cowboy-hat-wearing folksiness. What c—!

But atmospherics count – a lot unfortunately, and Romney, a master of the universe, is a god-awful candidate – especially just 3 years after the Great Recession. As I argued earlier this month, how is it that a product of the financial services industry, like Romney right down to his perfect hair, got to be a presidential candidate just a few years after high street banking nearly wrecked the economy? That just floors me. Who wants that Jamie Dimon clone in the White House? (It’s bad enough when Dimon goes before the Senate Banking Committee and mocks the whole country.) Makes you wish Santorum had won…(*shiver*)…

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

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RNC: Don’t Speak in a Publicly-Built Facility when you Attack Government – D’oh!

tampa_convention_center

I got bogged down with NK for awhile, so I missed a chance to comment on the RNC and the US election more generally. I have some thoughts after the break, but a Democrat friend of mine wrote the following, which is a pretty good first draft of the GOP’s problems I think, in this election cycle:

On the whole, I found the Republican convention disgusting and not simply because I disagree with their policies. They substantively are disconnected from the problems of the average person. They offered nothing which will help average people and, what they do offer, is bereft of details. They said nothing – NOTHING – about the two wars they started and the one that is still ongoing. (They do however feel we should have wars, or at least brinksmanship with several other countries.) They have no narrative connecting who they were just four years ago with who they think they are now.

The narrative they do present is a fantasy beyond what even Republicans of a prior generation would present. They stand in a publicly-built convention center preaching nothing but disdain for the role of government. They parade women, Latinos and an African-American secretary of state who talk about the ‘bootstrap’ mentality of their parents with no mention of the giants of civil rights and the role of government which reformed the bigoted society which their beloved founding fathers gave us. That reformation – more than their parents – allowed the likes of Condoleezza Rice to be where she is today.
They reach out to women with symbolism and yelps of ‘I love you women,’ but want to savage Medicare and Medicaid, both programs disproportionately benefiting women (remember, Medicaid is also a program for the elderly medical class who enter nursing homes). They are utter hypocrites on things like government stimulus – Romney first supported it and Ryan voted for Bush’s Tarp and took money from Obama’s stimulus. Even by politicians’ standards, their willingness to lie about Obama’s policies and statements is breathtaking.

But what bothers me the most is this ‘we built it’ mentality which they go on with. The US’ post-war middle class and social stability would not have existed without government. Support for college education, a redistributive tax structure, a modest social safety net, civil rights, Keynesian counter-cyclical spending, massive government infrastructure programs from highways, to the space program, to the defense establishment contributed mightily to every American’s success. This includes the success of their plutocrat leader Mitt Romney who made his money during the tech boom of the 1990s, a tech boom built on government research in computers and the internet. It includes the success of his running mate Paul Ryan whose family made much of their money building government-funded roads. 

I would add that I wonder how much ‘risk’ himself Romney has ever actually taken, given that dramatically pairing back the welfare state is emerging as the GOP meme for this election? If the Randian superman who ‘built it all himself’ is the economic ideology of the GOP, then it becomes central just how much Romney, Ryan, Cantor, Limbaugh, etc. exploit government services. Ayn Rand herself accepted Social Security and Medicare late in her life. That strikes me as fairly fraudulent, as does insisting that SS and Medicare be retained for today’s elderly but not tomorrow’s. I’m sure that the likelihood of older voters to vote GOP and younger voters to go for Obama has nothing to do with that.

For example, did Ryan try to steer government money into his district, as a congressman, as most congressmen do? If he did, isn’t that hard to justify given what he’s saying now? It seems increasingly obvious that Romney never did without in his life in a meaningful way, never went through a ‘back in grad school when I lived in a crappy apartment and ate ramen’ phase. He “refused to head up Bain Capital until Bain promised him he would get back his old salary and interest if he failed. He risked nothing.” He’s also done a fair job of using the government to make a mountain of money – whether that be fixing the Olympics, getting a sorta government bailout, using a battery of accountants to gin up such amazing tax shelters that he doesn’t want to release his returns, or working in government itself – governors get paid a lot more than most Americans. I don’t mean to begrudge Romney his success, but profiting handsomely from government while you promise to tear it down for those who come after you strikes me as fairly selfish.

More generally, I would ask how the GOP thought that a guy who’s practically a caricature of Gordon Gekko could get elected just 3 years after white shoe banking nearly wrecked the world? That just staggers me. And the scandals that continue to come out – LIBOR most recently – have made it obvious to just about everyone except Jamie Dimon that Wall Street needs a tighter regime, most obviously the Volcker Rule. Given just how much we’ve all learned about the financial industry since 2009 (in a bad way), I can’t imagine Romney – who’s so obviously steeped in the values of that class, right down to his perfect hair and willingness to say anything to please – winning. I can’t imagine Tea Partiers, who share the Occupy Movement’s disdain for too-big-to-fail banks and slick ‘masters of the universe,’ being enthusiastic for this guy either. Good lord, even Sandy Weill is now saying the banks need to be broken up. Yet in the first presidential election after the mostly-Wall-Street-caused Great Recession, we’re going to elect such an obvious product of the financial services industry? Wow. God help me for saying it, but where’s Santorum or Bachmann (at least they were honest) when you need them? It’s a measure of just how bad the economy is and just how weak a president and candidate Obama is that Romney is competitive at all.

Cross-posted at Asian Security Blog.

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All Mitt Romney Really Needed To Know He Never Learned In Kindergarten

This is actually a pretty good checklist.

I’m busy with other projects–dissertating, researching, and watching Breaking Bad, in ascending order–but I wanted to point out that the problem with Mitt Romney’s statement about the attacks on Americans in Libya and Egypt is not what it tells us about foreign policy. We know very little about Romney’s foreign policy views, and it is possible that Romney himself hasn’t thought deeply about the it. (Indeed, my gut feeling informed intuition  has long been that most American presidents simply don’t have well-informed views on things like military intervention before they take office.)

The problem with Romney’s statement is that it was a poorly-chosen, poorly-timed message.

For all his presentation as a cautious businessman, Romney has consistently shown that he has little idea how to sell himself in person. True, he has good instincts about how to market himself–stay away from the media, keep the campaign largely on message, don’t worry about temporary roadblocks like Herman Cain–but that is entirely different from being a good spokesman on his own behalf.

Yet unlike a native politician, such as Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy, or whoever is running for sheriff in your county this year, Romney lacks the finely honed filter that prevents him from unintentionally saying really dumb stuff.


The “two Cadillacs” gaffe, the “I like firing people” quote, that some-of-my-best-friends-are-NASCAR-owners slip–they are all qualitatively different from Obama’s worst verbal errors (“you didn’t build that” and, I guess, the “57 states” things), which are the products of fatigue and temporarily verbal confusion. By contrast, Romney’s slips have  comported with what many people (including, lest we forget, a substantial majority of Republican primary voters) thought he is: a distant plutocrat who’s only honest when he isn’t paying attention.

The most recent statement, which pretty blatantly politicized a moment of national grief, added a newer, sinister dimension to this image. Instead of Romney-as-clueless-Richie-Rich, we now have Mitt-the-Machiavelli, whose only thought is how the deaths of dedicated public servants affect his campaign. That this was not a slip of the tongue but the product of the campaign’s top strategists and, allegedly, the candidate himself speaks volumes about how the candidate sees himself. But it says nothing about how he sees the United States and its role abroad.

Late Update: I wanted to clarify the post’s relationship to its title. Why is Romney’s statement such a problem? It’s not that it’s part of a well-thought-out philosophy of “not apologizing” (both because the timing was wrong to release that critique, and because the philosophy is not well-thought out), as David Weigel at Slate implies. Rather, it’s that it shows that Romney may actually lack the kind of empathy that we normally presume that presidential candidates have. To be blunt, Romney may in fact be less empathetic than Nixon, whose career (as Rick Perlstein and others have argued) was in part driven by resentment at the slights, real and perceived, that the Establishment committed against the ordinary striver. This may not, in some grand philosophical sense, disqualify one from the presidency, but it normally disqualifies you from being a presidential candidate.

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Foreign Policy to the Fore: Is Romney Below the Bar?

U.S. Consulate in Benghazi 9/12/2012

I heard Dan Drezner in the car on NPR yesterday talking about whether foreign policy might matter in this election. And, last night and today, with the events in Egypt and Libya, he may be more right than even he anticipated.

We may have an incident, in the wake of the 11th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, that will shape the contours of the election and have wider repercussions for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa. Politically, does it constitute a disqualifying moment for Mitt Romney?
Like Dan, I’ve been of the mind that foreign policy doesn’t matter for most Americans in this election, and that barring a crisis, Mitt Romney only minimally needed to be seen as above the bar to serve as commander in chief. Foreign policy might affect the election on the margins with military families in key swing states.

As Dan suggested in recent posts, Romney did himself even more damage in recent months and during the convention in which he unnecessarily antagonized our closest allies on his foreign tour and then failed to mention our troops in Afghanistan during his convention speech.

Both actions, somewhat minor at the time, may now be overshadowed by Romney’s ill-timed and intemperate rush to blame the Obama administration for apologizing for actions by private actors in the U.S. that might have outraged Muslims (namely a bizarre and crude anti-Muslim propaganda “film” by a mysterious person who claimed Jewish, American, and Israeli roots who appeared to be none of those things). Never mind that the so-called “apology” was a tweet issued by the U.S. embassy in Cairo at a time before the protesters’ attacks were launched where the embassy sought to defuse a volatile situation. Never mind that the Obama administration quickly distanced itself from this tweet.

All of this would have been small beer had it not been for the tragic events that unfolded over the night that took the life of U.S. ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, who was killed by a mob apparently outraged by the same film (or, what may have been an pre-planned attack by Islamists taking advantage of the moment to exact revenge for a recent assassination in Yemen).

All of these events remain murky (here’s a timeline) so what’s the sensible thing for a presidential candidate to do in the face of incomplete information? Well, most Republicans issued outrage about the loss of life of Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans. Senator John McCain, for example, along with Senators Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman issued a statement: “We are anguished and outraged by the death of four citizens of the United States.” Most politicians said something along the lines of President Obama who said that there was “no justification” for the kinds of violence that had occurred in the wake of publicity of the film.

So what did Romney do? Romney issued a statement last night blaming the Obama Administration for what he called a “disgraceful” apology, that is the tweet by the embassy in Cairo:

I’m outraged by the attacks on American diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt and by the death of an American consulate worker in Benghazi. It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks.

Then, this morning, Romney doubled down with a press conference sandwiched in between Secretary of State Clinton’s remarks and the President’s. By this time, it was clear that the events had escalated in the region and between the time Romney issued his first statement and today, the Obama administration had rejected that so-called apology and, more importantly, our Ambassador in Libya and three other Americans were now dead.

Romney’s statement to rally our country at a potentially perilous moment went like this:

“It’s a terrible course for America to stand in apology for our values.”

“America will not tolerate attacks against our citizens and against our embassies. We’ll defend, also, our constitutional rights of speech and assembly and religion.” 

“Apology for America’s values is never the right course.”

The reaction by many in the media as well as a number of establishment Republicans is that this statement was unseemly and ill-timed political opportunism, especially since the situation is dangerous and as we mourn the loss of life (look at my Twitter feed for today for a long list of detractors like Peggy Noonan, David Frum, Ed Rogers, Joe Scarborough, Nick Burns, even Romney flak John Sununu).

Ben Smith captured a number of off the record reactions by Republicans that were scathing (“Bungle… utter disaster…not ready for prime time… not presidential… Lehman moment.” It is certainly too soon to elevate this moment to be more than it is, but the swift condemnation by both the media and many Republican insiders could redound upon those handful of undecideds for whom presidential candidates must at least meet a basic threshold of competency.

Beyond the politics, with the situation in the Middle East and Afghanistan especially volatile, the next 24 to 48 hours may determine whether or not this moment is more consequential in terms of U.S. interests in the region. While the Libyan government has repudiated these attacks, Egypt’s leader Mohamed Morsi was slow to condemn them. Let’s hope the situation settles down and this doesn’t become a bigger issue.

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Podcast No. 6 – The Brain-Melt Episode

The sixth episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live. In it, I and PTJ discuss academic administration before turning to the foreign-policy rhetoric of the 2012 campaign. This leads to under-developed ideas about American cultural identity, liberal order, Europe’s troubles, and why supplanting trans-Atlanticism with trans-Pacificism isn’t gonna be easy.

Contents

  • Introduction
  • Dan and PTJ Blather about Admin Stuff
  • The Foreign Policy Rhetoric of the 2012 Campaign
  • Can American Culture Handle Relative Decline?
  • Would a Commitment to Liberal Order Work?
  • From Liberal Order to Liberal “Space”
  • The Impact of Europe’s Crisis on American Identity
  • Trans-Pacificism is a Hard Sell
  • Dan and PTJ Engage in Self-Congratulatory Claptrap
  • End Matter

Note: the publication date of the podcasts remains in flux, but I am aiming to have them appear Friday-Sunday each week.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

Comments or thoughts on either this podcast or the series so far? Leave them here.

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Why Ferguson’s Newsweek Blather was Even Dumber than you Realized

Most of the attention paid to Ferguson’s anti-Obama Newsweek cover story has focused on his mendacious and unprofessional discussion of the administration’s domestic policies — notably its stimulus and health-care legislation.

Less attention has been paid to his foreign-policy criticisms. These are not so much mendacious as the kind of thing you’d expect from a third-rate op-ed hack. Obama didn’t use the Oval Office’s magical chalice to add +10 protest skills to the Iranian opposition. He didn’t order the NSA to activate its super-secret laser and assassinate the entire Iranian leadership. He had to be “cajoled” into bombing Libya (presumably by a bunch of women, the wuss!) rather than, I suppose, simply bypassing the United Nations and using tactical nuclear weapons at the first sign of trouble. And something about lacking the absolute clairvoyance in Egypt that would have enabled decisive, unerring action at the outset. That sort of stuff.


So it was interesting to read Sam Roggeveen defend Ferguson on the China component of the piece.

The reactions to this graph and Ferguson’s piece point out, firstly, that although China might become richer than the US overall it has four times as many people, and they remain much poorer. Second, China’s rise is a good thing; economics is not zero-sum and a big Chinese market is in our interests. Third, James Fallows points out that encouraging China’s growth has actually been settled US policy for some decades

What strikes me about the Ferguson piece and the reactions is that they largely talk past each other. Ferguson criticises Obama for failing to think through the implications of China’s rise as it relates to American power. Yet none of the critiques address that concern. Only David Frum’s piece engages with Ferguson on that level.

So what is the evidence that Obama has failed to “think through the implications of” the conjunction of US fiscal and economic weakness with the rise of Asian powers? One of them, apparently, is that Obama hasn’t followed Ferguson’s repeatedly discredited claims about the nature of those fiscal and economic challenges. Another, I suppose, is that the national-security bureaucracy is putting significant energy into assessing what kinds of capabilities are best suited to global threats and domestic fiscal constraints. “But wait,” a reader might ask, “isn’t that last part exactly what ‘thinking through’ entails?”
Well, yes. But “failing to think through” is weasel language. None of our likely readers, let alone Ferguson, has the slightest idea of whether Obama has thought through any of these things. It is possible that Ferguson, being a hedgehog-like scholar extraordinaire, simply has extremely high standards for thinking through global policy challenges. But it is far more likely that “failing to think through” means, as it usually does, “I don’t really have compelling criticisms here so I’ll level a vague accusation to buttress them.” And, indeed, Ferguson’s criticisms of Obama China policy come down to this: 

Far from developing a coherent strategy, he believed—perhaps encouraged by the premature award of the Nobel Peace Prize—that all he needed to do was to make touchy-feely speeches around the world explaining to foreigners that he was not George W. Bush.

In Tokyo in November 2009, the president gave his boilerplate hug-a-foreigner speech: “In an interconnected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another … The United States does not seek to contain China … On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations.” Yet by fall 2011, this approach had been jettisoned in favor of a “pivot” back to the Pacific, including risible deployments of troops to Australia and Singapore. From the vantage point of Beijing, neither approach had credibility.

Yes, you read that right: a chaired professor of international history either doesn’t understand the difference between Presidential speeches and policy actions or thinks cribbing from second-tier right-wing blogs makes for effective policy analysis.
In truth, the US pursues a rather difficult and careful policy toward China. Washington’s preferred outcome is for Beijing to be a “responsible stakeholder,” i.e., a status-quo oriented power integrated into the global order. At the same time, US policymakers recognize that there are real chances that China’s revisionist tendencies — on display in places like the South China Sea — will come to dominate its geo-strategic orientation. 
Thus, the US is building what might be called “containment capacity” while trying to reassure Beijing that confrontation is far from inevitable. It isn’t the prettiest or smoothest approach, but it has a lot of merit. At the very least, it takes advantage of offshore-balancing dynamics. And, like other aspects of Obama foreign policy, it involves a great deal more than “hug-a-foreigner” speeches. There exist plenty of grounds for criticizing the administration’s China policy; it may, in fact, be insufficiently hardline. But Ferguson isn’t even close. 
At the end of the day, there’s not much going for the foreign-policy components of Ferguson’s bid for access to a future Romney administration. I hope, at least, that he feels the number of hits he’s getting justifies burning through what little remains of his academic credibility.
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Legitimate Rape: A Weberian Analysis

On Facebook, someone familiar to readers of this blog wrote: “As readers of Weber know, there are three forms of legitimate rape: forcible, fraternity, and rational-legal.” But enough of that neo-Weberian claptrap. As a good paleo-Weberian knows, the ideal types here remain traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational. And these help us to understand the political backlash over Rep. Aiken’s Aken’s “unfortunate” choice of words.

Aken subscribes to a traditional view of rape. Indeed, his understanding harkens back to late medieval Europe. That’s pretty traditional.

His opponents, on the other hand, adopt legal-rational conceptions of rape. These depend on entirely different warrants, such as consistency, equal application, and other justificatory schema alien to Aken’s wing of the Republican party. Or, as Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association nicely summarized, “What Akin meant by ‘legitimate rape:’ actual forcible rape, not consensual sex that later gets called rape. Come on, people.”

Indeed, since women cannot, for people such as Aken and Fischer, become pregnant from rape, pregnancy provides an excellent basis for distinguishing between traditional rape and faux rape — the latter including mere threats to inflict harm, the exploitation of power differentials, and the droit de segnieur that our great democracy has extended to all men encountering women with short skirts, low-cut tops, or lesbian tendencies.

Ah, traditional justice. So much easier and more accurate than that demanded in legal-rational systems.


Where was I?…. Ah, yes. The problem for Aken is that he failed to translate traditional understandings of legitimate rape into legal-rational ones of the kind demanded by the lamestream media. Many Republicans, however, depend upon making appeals to segments of the electorate whose traditions are more thoroughly laced with legal-rational lifeworlds. They have therefore thrown Aken under the proverbial chariot. But not to worry, for as Weber teaches us a Charismatic figure may create a genuine rupture in existing modes of legitimate rape and build a new order.

And that figure is at hand.

No. Wait. 
Wrong picture.

Sorry. I meant this one:

Credit: TMZ via Salon

I admit none of this was terribly funny. But there’s a serious point here: Weber’s ideal-typical accounts of legitimate domination provide a useful way of parsing contemporary debates in the United States. It isn’t just a matter of content, nor of communities of discourse, but of styles of legitimation.

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Least Experienced Foreign Policy Ticket — Ever?

One of the defining features of the current era of globalization is the rise in uncertainty and complexity in global politics. There are more actors, more transactions, and more challenges as a result. In the face of this, the United States continues to spend more on national security – the military, intelligence, and homeland security – than almost all other countries in the world combined. And, yet it’s clear that as the world is becoming increasingly more complex, the United States’ ability to influence outcomes – as demonstrated by the Iraq, Afghanistan, and the global economic crisis among other issues – is clearly constrained.

Despite this, the Republican Party has just put forward one of the least experienced national security tickets by a major political party in history. With the possible exception of Harding/Coolidge in 1920, it’s hard to name a ticket in history that has less knowledge, practical experience, or specific, articulated vision of national security and global affairs than this one does. The general rule has long been that if the Presidential nominee has limited experience, he has chosen a running mate to offset the deficit. Romney didn’t do that.

I’m not suggesting that this means a Romney/Ryan administration would be a failure – we’ve had plenty of disasters with highly experienced Presidents and Vice Presidents. It’s just that going in to the fall, their combined lack of experience means that there are a lot of conflicting interpretations of Romney’s (and Ryan’s) worldview. Some have suggested that Romney and Ryan are close to traditional Republican internationalists, others don’t see any real gap between Romney and Obama, while others see the team as becoming more aligned with neoconservativism. Even conservatives – in their many shapes – disagree on what Romney and Ryan stand for.

So what might all this mean?


I’ve just finished reading Elizabeth Saunders Leaders At War: How Presidents Shape Military Interventions and Stephen G. Walker and Akan Malici’s U.S. Presidents and Foreign Policy Mistakes. Both books revisit the extensive literature on psychology and foreign policy and remind us of the importance of leaders’ perceptions and beliefs in their foreign policy decisionmaking. Saunders argues that how presidents decide when and where to use force and how to use that force comes from their interpretations of the origin and nature of threats. If the threat is seen as internal – inherent in the regime — she finds that presidents are inclined to use force for ambitious strategies such as regime change. If a president sees threats as emanating from the international or regional security environment, force is likely to be used to advanced a more restricted vision of strategic interests, but not regime change. For her, how a president interprets threat comes from the president’s deeper causal beliefs about the nature and source of power and history – much of which she argues can be discerned from analysis of the president’s belief systems prior to coming into office.

Smith and Malici similarly focus on the role of leaders’ belief systems and argue that most foreign policy mistakes occur when leaders misperceive the “power relationship between self and others” which “leads to mistaken calculations of costs and benefits regarding alternative strategies of statecraft and thereby to policy failures.” Again, leaders often cue the decisionmaking biases and the mistakes to which they are prone through their world views and causal belief systems.

If we think about these arguments with respect to the Romney/Ryan ticket we’re left with a puzzle: With their limited combined track record, we don’t really know what they believe.

To be sure, Romney clearly has given us a lot of platitudes in his speeches: “I am an unapologetic believer in the greatness of this country.” And, both Romney and Ryan support the general Republican fare on American exceptionalism and that the U.S. military budgets need to be stronger, Israel needs more support, and Obama is weak.

But it’s not clear what these really mean or how their various speeches, or in the case of Paul Ryan his Congressional votes are likely to translate into specific, real-world policy responses to the global challenges out there.

Romney has been running for office for seven years now. Yet, in both the 2008 and the 2012 campaign, Romney has really tacked away from foreign policy discussions – he hardly mentioned the Iraq War in 2008, today he hardly mentions the war in Afghanistan. His October 2011 policy paper and his August VFW speech emphasize American exceptionalism and the potential challenges associated with China’s rise and with Russia, but aside from the elevated rhetoric it’s not clear what would be different on Iran, Russia, or China. We haven’t heard him articulate a position on what should be done in Syria. If we consider all of his promises and speeches, it’s not clear what we really get.

His highly touted foreign trip in July was, with all due respect, astonishingly amateurish. And, his more recent gaffe on Japan suggests that both the candidate and the campaign are still struggling with basic diplomatic and rhetorical protocols.

Much of the problem is that foreign policy and national security have been an afterthought for Romney. This isn’t really a surprise – we all know that this election will turn on the economy and his experience and skill set play to his vision for changes in U.S. economic policy.

But it is striking at how he’s essentially conceded the issue — at least to date. Organizationally, his campaign staff runs the day-to-day management of foreign policy development. He does not have an established, senior foreign policy advisor traveling with him, advising him on a daily basis or talking to the press. As a result, the organization, the substance, the message, and the candidate have lacked cohesion and vision.

He isn’t helped by the intra-party feuding that continues within the Republican Party. Romney’s campaign has assembled a broad circle of advisers that includes neoconservatives and Republican internationalists. Their only reported joint meeting apparently ended in an argument about the future of Afghanistan. The campaign’s response was that Romney encourages active debate among his advisers. But, George W. Bush lost control of his national security decisionmaking process because he wasn’t able to control the feuding between the two camps.

It recent weeks it appears that when push has come to shove between these camps – which it almost always does – Romney and his campaign are turning more and more to the “Cheneyites” and the neocons. His selection of Robert Zoellick last week was seen by some as a measured response to the wavering ship – to add some foreign policy heft and traditional Republican internationalist moderation to the foreign policy team, but the announcement was met with such intense and critical push-back from the neocons that the campaign went to great lengths to portray Zoellick as simply helping with the normal pre-election transition vetting process and to re-assure the critics that there is a firewall between Zoellick and the campaign’s policy development.

So we are left with this. As we enter the fall campaign, Romney’s foreign policy views are being shaped not by a coherent, long-standing world-view or causal beliefs about the nature of power, the utility of force, or the nature and source of threats, but by political expediency. His foreign policy views appear to be emerging out of campaign strategy – with the singular goal of distancing himself from President Obama. The gist of all of this is that we really don’t know what we are likely to get. Would a Romney/Ryan administration embrace the neocons’ view of the world – with their focus on the ubiquity of existential threats, their belief in the efficacy and utility of force, and their ambitions for U.S. support for regime change in places like Iran and Syria? Or would a Romney/Ryan administration be more likely to embrace more traditional Republic internationalism relying on existing institutions and a wider range of instruments of statecraft to manage American interests?

All things considered, and in light of the foreign policy mistakes over the past decade and the challenges that lie ahead, these are pretty big questions to still be lingering this late in a campaign.

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Romney is Alone in His Fear of Russia

Per Dan’s post below, I don’t understand why Russia is our number-one enemy, either today or ten years from now. Neither, it seems, do Americans, who have only noticed Russia’s phantom menace at one period in the past several years–immediately after the invasion of Georgia in 2008. Below, polling data from the Pew Research Center on the question of which country represents the greatest danger to the United States; these are not all the answers, but they are the biggest ones. Russia is the orange line. Note that these are free-response questions, which explains Iraq’s presence on the list and also (in the full version) why “South Korea” occasionally makes the list.

For Mitt, the Red coats are still coming.
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Romney’s Russia Card

You may have heard that Romney referred to Russia as America’s “number-one geopolitical foe” and plans to double down on this rhetoric during his big speech in Poland.

The speech on the “values of liberty” at Warsaw University on Tuesday is expected to seek to rekindle the flames of US cold war righteousness by featuring a strong attack on Russia and President Vladimir Putin’s rollback of democratic gains, while also criticising the US president, Barack Obama, for allegedly sacrificing the interests and security of central European democracy in favour of realpolitik with the Kremlin. 

Romney has previously described Russia as America’s “No 1 geopolitical foe”, in contrast with Obama, who has sought to press “the reset button” in relations with Moscow.

I’ve seen a lot of speculation to the effect of “WTF” “what is this all about?” Here are some possible (non-exclusive) answers:

  • Romney’s foreign-policy advisors think that strong anti-Russia rhetoric will resonate well among NATO’s east-most members and thus burnish his plausibility as a future Commander-in-Chief. This isn’t completely wrongheaded, but I think they overestimate the lasting damage caused by the Obama Administration’s botched announcement of PHAAD — and consequent termination of the Polish BMD site — as well as the centrality of Russia policy to Polish views of Obama. Regardless, most foreign-policy rhetoric during political campaigns is about US domestic politics.
  • Romney is increasingly steeped in the foreign-policy worldview of the neo-conservative wing of the Republican party. Believe it or not, the conservative commentariat–and the “informed base”–is convinced that Obama is intent on selling out US national-security interests to Moscow. They see Obama’s hot-mike comment to Medvedev about “political flexibility”after the election as both a big deal and extremely sinister. Indeed, the Russia “reset” runs directly counter to what I’ve called neoconservatism 3.0 — a recasting of the great ideological struggle away from Islamism to the ‘axis of authoritarianism’, of which Russia is a major hub. A number of Romney’s foreign-policy advisors subscribe to this worldview.
  • Russia is a politically savvy “enemy” for Romney. Treating Moscow as America’s greatest rival fits with the anti-Obama contrarianism of the current Republican party — the “if Obama is for it then we are against it” impulse that has led countless party officials to renounce policies they supported as recently as 2008 and 2009 — and it doesn’t alienate any major domestic constituency. It provides a clear line of contrast for Romney, as well as attack. After all, even if the “Reset” achieved many of its objectives it has so far failed in its ultimate goal of weaning Moscow from its traditional realpolitik approach to its “near abroad” and otherwise dialing back its revisionist impulses toward aspects of the current world order. And, at the end of the day, it isn’t as if many older American don’t have a reflexive view of Russia as a rival.
  • It reflects the discomforting proposition that Romney suffers from financialsectoritis when it comes to foreign policy, i.e., the conflation of his own experiences in the business world with fundamental truths about the human condition… including geopolitics. You know the drill: some people who are (1) very good at working with economic assets and (2) spend most of their formative adult years working with economic assets (3) become convinced that everything comes down to economic assets. As Dan Drezner quoted from the New York Times: “Some advisers close to Mr. Romney, who declined to be quoted or identified by name, say Russia is a good illustration of his belief that national security threats are closely tied to economic power — in this case stemming from Russia’s oil and gas reserves, which it has used to muscle European countries dependent on energy imports.”
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UN as Daddy Day Care

Romney apparently said today “we’ve been ‘turning to the United Nations’ to ‘raise our kids.'”

I don’t know if this is true,* but it raises a variety of questions/thoughts:

  • Does the UN have stock in ink?  Kids today seem to like tattoos. 
  • What is the curriculum include at UN Day Care?
  • Learning How to Circumvent Your Parents’ Vetoes?
  • Membership 101: You can join any club you want as long as your name is ok (Taiwan, Macedonia) even if you fall short of standards (Human Rights Commission).
  • The Golden Rule As Applied to Combat: Fire only if fired upon.
  • What is the UN Day Care hours and penalties for late pick up?
  • Do they have local franchises like Kindercare?  Is Kindercare really the UN’s franchise?
  • What do they serve for lunch?  Caviar and lobster (for those who ponder UN waste), Chinese every day (for those who fear the yellow peril’s insidious influence through an organization it does not really like), etc?
  • Do the kids get to ride on the black helicopters?
  • * I follow the code of the West a la The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

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