Breaking with usual campaign practice, Mitt Romney selected a fellow foreign policy neophyte as his running mate. But, as with the 1992 Clinton/Gore ticket, that might be precisely the point.
Left, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan campaign in Virginia. Left, Bill Clinton and Al Gore in Texas 16 years prior. (Reuters, AP)
Articles about Paul Ryan's foreign policy experience tend to be short, and to mostly talk about anything but. The Wisconsin congressman and now Republican vice presidential candidate has long focused on domestic policy, particularly social programs and the budget. Like Romney, he has little to no record on foreign policy or national security. Oft-quoted political analyst Larry Sabato called him "just a generic Republican on foreign policy" who, also like Romney, has tended to follow the party's lead. His one foreign policy issue seems to be overturning the Cuba embargo, the sort of thing that appeals to foreign policy dorks (like me) but does poorly among the GOP establishment and swing Florida voters, meaning that we will probably not hear much about it during the campaign.
Foreign policy and national security are big parts of the U.S. president's job, which is part of why candidates with thin records -- such as Barack Obama in 2008 or George W. Bush in 2000 -- tend to round out their tickets with stalwarts like Joe Biden or Dick Cheney. But the Romney campaign seems to have steered away from foreign policy -- its bare-minimum tour of three U.S. allies last month didn't go so well -- and with the Ryan pick likely confirms that they will not be emphasizing this traditionally Republic issue. The half-hearted defenses of Ryan's foreign policy record tend to either tout his lack of experience as a virtue, as Newt Gingrich did, or to argue that foreign policy isn't that important anyway.
Voters might actually agree with that latter argument. According to a new Reuters poll, only four percent of Americans identify foreign affairs as "the most important issue facing the U.S. today," about a third of what it was two years ago. It's tied with "morality" for the proportion of voters who call it their top concern. By comparison, 45 percent say they care most about the economy (about half of those specifying it down to unemployment) and 30 percent cite other "domestic issues."
As if that weren't enough reason for Romney to focus away from foreign policy (and, again, putting aside his less than graceful attempts at diplomacy so far), Reuters poll respondents also seem to consider it an area that favors Obama. A significant 51 percent say Obama is "stronger" on foreign policy (50 percent on "the war on terror" and 47 percent on national security), while only 35 percent say Romney is the stronger. Excepting health care, on which Obama scores 53 percent to Romney's 36, it's Obama's strongest issue.
It's unusual for a presidential ticket to include two foreign policy neophytes, but not without precedent: in 1992, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton selected U.S. Senator Al Gore, who like Ryan had focused largely on domestic issues (though Gore did sit on the Homeland Security and Armed Services committees), to run against President George H.W. Bush*. The elder Bush ran on one of the most sterling foreign policy records of the 20th century: he'd overseen the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union and its withdrawal from Europe and Asia, arranged the Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in Madrid, and had successfully (and carefully) ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, sending his approval rating skyrocketing to an historic 89 percent.
The 1992 race between Bush and Clinton yielded democratic strategist James Carville's famous dictum, "It's the economy, stupid." The economy sagged into recession, Bush's disapproval rating climbed to an alarming 64 percent in August 1992, and three months later voters ousted the foreign policy master for the two inexperienced foreign policy amateurs who preferred to talk about health care and the economy. Sound familiar?
* - Update: Some readers have suggested that it's unfair to draw a one-to-one comparison between Al Gore and Paul Ryan in terms of foreign policy experience. And they're right! Gore famously served during the Vietnam War as a military reporter. As a senator since 1985 and member of Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees, he played a role in such foreign policies as the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which he touted during his 1988 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Still, the point is that, although he might have been more experienced than then-Governor Clinton, with seven years in the Senate his foreign policy record was a bit closer to that of three-year Senator Barack Obama than to 36-year Senator Joe Biden.
If Clinton had sought to make balancing his ticket's foreign policy experience a primary mission in selecting his vice president, he might have chosen Senator and former Navy SEAL Bob Kerrey (who also ran against Clinton in the 1992 primary) or the more experienced and foreign policy-focused Senator Sam Nunn, as two hypothetical examples, over Gore. That's not to discount Gore's foreign policy record, only to point out that, if Clinton had wanted a strong foreign policy name to balance his ticket along the lines of when Obama chose Biden or George W. Bush chose Cheney, he could have found options along those lines. But Clinton, despite his own lack of foreign policy experience, didn't choose a foreign policy heavyweight like Nunn. This doesn't mean that Clinton-Gore and Romney-Ryan have entirely analogous records, but it does suggest a similarity in the degree to which they have not chosen to emphasis foreign policy while running against a sitting president with a strong foreign policy record.
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
Curfews, sports, and understanding kids’ brain chemistry have all helped dramatically curb substance abuse in the country.
It’s a little before 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a stroller, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out—so where are all the kids?
Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”
More clues that the Facebook founder is eyeing a run for office
There’s a long-running theory that Mark Zuckerberg has presidential aspirations. It makes sense to wonder. After all, if the civically engaged and ambitious billionaire leader of the most powerful media company on the planet wanted to take on a new challenge, why not try running a country? It’s not like he has many other opportunities for a promotion.
But only in recent weeks has a Zuckerberg run for the American presidency started to seem like a legitimate possibility. First there was his personal challenge for 2017: Zuckerberg’s aiming to visit and meet with people in all 50 states by the end of the year.
And not just that, but he framed the exercise in a way that sounds, well, political: “Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”
In the age of the digital hermit, a psychologist explains what it means to avoid other people—and what to do about it.
People today might not actually be avoiding social interaction any more than they did in past decades, but they’re certainly more vocal about it. The rise of digital communication seems to be spawning a nation of indoor cats, all humble-bragging about how introverted they are and ordering their rides and groceries without ever talking to a human.
Sometimes reclusiveness can be a sign of something more serious, though. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, but it’s still poorly understood outside of scientific circles. The good news is that it’s highly treatable, according to Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University.
I recently talked with Hofmann about how social anxiety works and what people who feel socially anxious can do about it. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
William Jennings Bryan, the populist presidential hopeful, warned of an “epidemic of fake news” in his day.
Fake news is everywhere. The power of the press is said to be waning. And because the nation’s most famous populist—the man with his sights on the presidency—can’t trust the lying media, he says, he has no option but to be a publisher himself.
Oh yeah, and the year is 1896.
The would-be president in question is William Jennings Bryan. In an era before the internet, television, or radio, the best way to reach the masses is with newsprint. So, without the option of tweeting his grievances after losing the election to William McKinley, what does Bryan do? He starts his own newspaper. And he uses it to rail against “fake news.”
I don’t need to tell you a lot of this sounds weirdly familiar.
“There seems to be an epidemic of fake news from the city of Lincoln, [Nebraska], and it all comes from Mr. Bryan’s ‘friends’—names not given,” Bryan’s newspaper, The Commoner,wrote in 1907. “It would seem unnecessary to deny reports sent out to which no name was attached, and yet it has been necessary to send a number of telegrams to notify other papers that the report was unauthorized … As Mr. Bryan has a paper—The Commoner—through which he speaks every week, and as he is speaking often and giving out interviews frequently, a newspaper ought to view with suspicion any report sent out from Lincoln or anywhere else purporting to state what Mr. Bryan thinks or intends to do.” (In this case, the issue at hand was Bryan’s stance against a third term for Teddy Roosevelt, which some papers had apparently questioned.)
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
“We must as a nation be more unpredictable,” proclaimed Donald Trump in April. On the eve of his inauguration as president of the United States, he can already declare victory. There are major foreign-policy issues about which Trump has generated huge uncertainty by flatly contradicting his own policy promises. He has mused that it might be good for U.S. allies to acquire nuclear weapons, and then sworn he never said that; he has promised to ban Muslim immigrants from the U.S., and then walked it back. But that’s just the beginning. Here are the top foreign-policy areas set to become more unpredictable.
7. The Iran Deal. Trump has promised to take a harder line on Iran as president, declaring the 2015 nuclear agreement the “worst deal ever negotiated.” But what exactly is he planning to do about it? Last year, in a speech to an anti-Iran crowd at AIPAC, he declared, “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” But that threat directly contradicts his prior statements that “we have to live with” the deal. “I know it would be very popular for me to do what a couple of ‘em said—‘we’re gonna rip it up.’” But, he continued, “we have an agreement.” Instead, he promised, “I will police that deal.” His latest statement? “I don’t want to say what I’m gonna do with the Iran deal.”
Without any of his key appointees confirmed by the Senate, the incoming president has turned to existing officials to help smooth the transition.
Donald Rumsfeld is not joining the Trump administration, but one of his most famous rules is: “You go to war with the Army you have—not the Army you might wish you have.” Or the secretary of the Army, as the case might be.
With the process of vetting and appointing, to say nothing of confirming, executive-branch officials well behind the optimal pace, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a briefing on Thursday that “over 50” members of the Obama administration will temporarily remain in their posts to help smooth the transition to the Trump administration.
Spicer did not name all of the officials, nor did he indicate whether others had been asked and declined to stay on. A message to the Trump transition team, asking for a full list, has not been answered. Reuters reported Thursday afternoon that some individuals on a list, dated Tuesday, of appointees being asked to stay on had declined to do so, including the principal deputy director of national intelligence, an undersecretary of state, and an assistant secretary of state.
How the vice president spent a few of his closing days in office
When I boarded Air Force Two for Vice President Joe Biden’s final overseas mission, he had four days left in office. His leverage was diminishing by the hour, with every new question at a Trump nominee confirmation hearing, with every new @RealDonaldTrump tweet.
There was no chance of a miracle at that point, a few days away from Vice President-elect Mike Pence getting Biden’s keys to Air Force Two—to somehow rid Ukraine of its debilitating corruption, pull off a Cyprus deal, or stand between Kosovo and Serbia and neutralize the tension between them for good. It’s hard to shame Russian President Vladimir Putin or to inspire him to spiff up his behavior if the president-elect seems to accept Putin just as he is. And of course, there’s Iraq.
An extremely comprehensive guide to the ceremonies—and the festivities—of the United States’s 58th presidential inauguration
When George Washington was inaugurated, in late April of 1789, his aides had to scramble, right before his swearing-in ceremony began, to find a Bible on which he could take the oath of office. It hadn’t occurred to any of them, as they’d been planning the event, that they’d need one. Washington and his fellow founders were winging it. They knew, though—or, at least, they hoped—that they were, in imagining the installation of a man who would be the nation’s chief executive rather than its king, establishing a ceremony that would be repeated many, many times again.
Their hope was realized. The inauguration of a new American president is now a matter of ritual, honed by centuries of trial and error, its details—pomp, circumstance, just a smidge more pomp for good measure—planned down to the second. Each inaugural exercise is attuned to the man who is stepping into office; each one, though, even more importantly—even more symbolically—is the stuff of shared ceremony, a ritualized version of what George Washington would learn after he took his oath (on a Bible that was borrowed, finally, from a Masonic lodge): When you become the American president, your life is no longer, fully, your own. People may serve at your pleasure; you serve, however, at the pleasure of the people. So while the inauguration is a celebration of the new president, it is also a step-by-step ceremony of conversion: It is a man, and his family, shedding the life they have known for the one they have chosen.