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.
The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed.
The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.
Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. This year, the removal of Lee’s statue in New Orleans has inspired a new round of commentary about Lee, not to mention protests on his behalf by white supremacists.
The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”
Just seven months into his presidency, Trump appears to have achieved a status usually reserved for the final months of a term.
In many ways, the Trump presidency never got off the ground: The president’s legislative agenda is going nowhere, his relations with foreign leaders are frayed, and his approval rating with the American people never enjoyed the honeymoon period most newly elected presidents do. Pundits who are sympathetic toward, or even neutral on, the president keep hoping that the next personnel move—the appointment of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, say, or the long-rumored-but-never-delivered departure of Steve Bannon—will finally get the White House in gear.
But what if they, and many other people, are thinking about it wrong? Maybe the reality is not that the Trump presidency has never gotten started. It’s that he’s already reached his lame-duck period. For most presidents, that comes in the last few months of a term. For Trump, it appears to have arrived early, just a few months into his term. The president did always brag that he was a fast learner.
An analysis of Stormfront forums shows a sometimes sophisticated understanding of the limits of ancestry tests.
The white-nationalist forum Stormfront hosts discussions on a wide range of topics, from politics to guns to The Lord of the Rings. And of particular and enduring interest: genetic ancestry tests. For white nationalists, DNA tests are a way to prove their racial purity. Of course, their results don’t always come back that way. And how white nationalists try to explain away non-European ancestry is rather illuminating of their beliefs.
Two years ago—before Donald Trump was elected president, before white nationalism had become central to the political conversation—Aaron Panofsky and Joan Donovan, sociologists then at the University of California, Los Angeles, set out to study Stormfront forum posts about genetic ancestry tests. They presented their study at the American Sociological Association meeting this Monday. (A preprint of the paper is now online.) After the events in Charlottesville this week, their research struck a particular chord with the audience.
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Antifa’s activists say they’re battling burgeoning authoritarianism on the American right. Are they fueling it instead?
Since 1907, Portland, Oregon, has hosted an annual Rose Festival. Since 2007, the festival had included a parade down 82nd Avenue. Since 2013, the Republican Party of Multnomah County, which includes Portland, had taken part. This April, all of that changed.
In the days leading up to the planned parade, a group called the Direct Action Alliance declared, “Fascists plan to march through the streets,” and warned, “Nazis will not march through Portland unopposed.” The alliance said it didn’t object to the Multnomah GOP itself, but to “fascists” who planned to infiltrate its ranks. Yet it also denounced marchers with “Trump flags” and “red maga hats” who could “normalize support for an orange man who bragged about sexually harassing women and who is waging a war of hate, racism and prejudice.” A second group, Oregon Students Empowered, created a Facebook page called “Shut down fascism! No nazis in Portland!”
Anti-Semitic logic fueled the violence over the weekend, no matter what the president says.
The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was ostensibly about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee. It was about asserting the legitimacy of “white culture” and white supremacy, and defending the legacy of the Confederacy.
So why did the demonstrators chant anti-Semitic lines like “Jews will not replace us”?
The demonstration was suffused with anti-black racism, but also with anti-Semitism. Marchers displayed swastikas on banners and shouted slogans like “blood and soil,” a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology. “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers,” one demonstrator told Vice News’ Elspeth Reeve during their march. As Jews prayed at a local synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, men dressed in fatigues carrying semi-automatic rifles stood across the street, according to the temple’s president. Nazi websites posted a call to burn their building. As a precautionary measure, congregants had removed their Torah scrolls and exited through the back of the building when they were done praying.
If the president is concerned about violence on the left, he can start by fighting the white supremacist movements whose growth has fueled its rise.
In his Tuesday press conference, Donald Trump talked at length about what he called “the alt left.” White supremacists, he claimed, weren’t the only people in Charlottesville last weekend that deserved condemnation. “You had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he declared. “Nobody wants to say that.”
I can say with great confidence that Trump’s final sentence is untrue. I can do so because the September issue of TheAtlantic contains an essay of mine entitled “The Rise of the Violent Left,” which discusses the very phenomenon that Trump claims “nobody wants” to discuss. Trump is right that, in Charlottesville and beyond, the violence of some leftist activists constitutes a real problem. Where he’s wrong is in suggesting that it’s a problem in any way comparable to white supremacism.
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history.
When did America become untethered from reality?
I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.