I’ll be busy at one of the last Fall For the Book readings tonight so I won’t be following the debate as closely as I’d like. You, however, should follow along with these fine bloggers who will be giving you some of the best foreign policy and political commentary as they live-blog the event:
- Ned Resnikoff and Charlie Eisenhood at NYU Local: Sweet political barbs from the Big Apple’s progressive, hipster capital.
- Democracy Arsenal hits you with a right hook of wonkishness and lays you out with a southpaw of firece foreign policy analysis. Or some other such boxing/defense policy metaphor-combo.
- Dan Drezner: The man boasts political economy and foreign policy bona fides. If you mess with him, he will cut you.
- Think Progress: It’s a virtual room full of wonks and twenty-something Beltway progressives, including Matt Yglesias. You don’t have to drink to hang out, but you will have to provide your own booze.
I’ll weigh in with a (hopefully) substative take post-debate, but until then enjoy your Friday.
I’ll second these observations from Dylan Matthews and Jamelle. Strangely, this whole thing reminds me of a scene from Star Trek: First Contact:
But in the end, of course, the sacrifice is worth it and the Pequod sails safely back to harbor…
It seems Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are now part of the “maybe vaccines cause autism, maybe it’s unicorns we should look into this” group of concerned politicians. I’m becoming very tired of this primary.
Noam Scheiber’s TNR piece about Obama’s policy shop has got me thinking about the policy affairs of the Clinton years. So I’ve compiled a short list of the personal and political memoirs that, I think, cover most of the major policy issues and key players in the Clinton White House. In the foreign policy arena, Madeline Albright’s Madame Secretary and Dennis Ross’s The Missing Peace cover the major conflicts and diplomatic endeavors (i.e. Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo, Camp David). Robert Rubin’s In an Uncertain World and Robert Reich’s Locked in the Cabinet cover both sides of the economic and trade disputes from the Rubin/Summers and the Reich/Thurow wings of the Democratic party. The last two are a bit different: George Stephanopoulos’s All Too Human is the quintessential political memoir of the 1990s, and seemingly de rigeur for understanding how the White House went about crafting its messages and playing full-contact politics. Benjamin Barber’s The Truth of Power: Intellectual Affairs in the Clinton White House looks at Clinton’s relationship with ideas and academia.
I’ve chosen personal memoirs because they give the reader a view of both the policy issues and the behind-the-scenes management from an on-the-ground perspective. I’m less interested in a dispassionate wonkish monograph than an account of policy in action–and perhaps ideology in action (and I can find those pretty readily). But I feel like I’m missing some big issues; I don’t have anything on the 1993 health care reform (probably the biggest domestic policy failure) nor anything from a singular military perspective. Any suggestions for books to round out the list?
Greg Mankiw worries that Barack Obama may side with the populists of the Democratic party rather than the centrists, thanks to a statement like this:
It’s a game where trade deals like NAFTA ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wage at Wal-Mart. That’s what happens when the American worker doesn’t have a voice at the negotiating table, when leaders change their positions on trade with the politics of the moment, and that’s why we need a President who will listen to Main Street – not just Wall Street; a President who will stand with workers not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.
The first part of this statement is populist bluster, so I can see why this raised Mankiw’s neoclassical hackles. The second part of the statement is the more important part because it explicitly states what the first part implies: “Some of you have been shut out (or feel left out) from economic prosperity but I will not forget you. You will have a voice in my administration.” That is as fine, if essentially bland and boilerplate political statement. And when we consider other signals, like his economic policy team, Obama is still safely in the centrist category.
So what’s with the NAFTA bashing? There are primaries in Texas and Ohio that Clinton is favored to win, with primary voters that respond to the populist message and whose demographic makeup work against him and for Clinton. Obama needs to join his primary momentum with appeals to Clinton’s likely supporters if he wants to lock up a victory. Thus, the political logic of populist rhetoric.
I think one of the biggest political issues an Obama administration will have to deal with is criticism from the left that he is insufficiently progressive or too economically conservative. What happened to the revolutionary leader who was going to sweep into Washington and eliminate corporate power and legislate away poverty? But he hasn’t promised those things and he isn’t the revolutionary leader some on the left are looking for (at least, not in the ways they want him to be). For my part, Obama’s more centrist tendencies and wide appeal are why I’m a supporter.
Obama appears to be a canny pragmatist with strong political gifts, a man who can build coalitions through deft political maneuvering and while bringing the polity along with leadership and inspirational rhetoric. None of these things are negative; they are all part of politics, and this NAFTA comment seems a part of this.
Garance Franke-Ruta has an excellent summary of the political opening Obama has given to his opponents:
This is what happens when campaigns are trying too hard to win news of the day stand-offs, and not enough about directing things long-term. There was never an opening for Obama on this issue. The campaign had started to go after her on Iran, and it should have just stuck with that. Instead, Obama has created an opening for others to now go after him.
Obama needs to make significant moves (e.g. a bold policy pronouncement to put some daylight between himself and the other Democratic candidates), and quickly if he doesn’t want to cede the remaining politcial ground to Hillary Clinton. Perhaps his campaign should think about hiring Garance Franke-Ruta as a communications or media consultant instead of outsourcing¹ their message strategy to opinion columns…
¹ My outsourcing is good because I get expertise for free. Obama’s is bad because paid experts are taking bad advise from unpaid experts.
I’m not sure that what this means (if it means anything), but Dennis Ross is working as an adviser for the Obama campaign while his former Clinton administration colleague, Martin Indyk, has signed on with the Clinton camp. Although I believe there’s a good chance that’ll end up working together in a Democratic administration anyway, I think Ross is a good policy sign for Obama, and might suggest that some experts see a bigger role for themselves or their policies in a Obama administration.
Of course, if you’re an adherent of the Walt-Mearsheimer thesis, you’ll see this a continuation of Israel lobby influence throughout politics, as in this London Review of Books debate where John Mearsheimer tells Ross and Indyk that they are “at the core of the lobby.” But hey, if members of the lobby weren’t part of the presidential candidates’ policy teams, what would policy wonks and the blogosphere have to talk about¹?
¹ Probably regular things.