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.
As Trump considers military options, he’s drawing unenforceable red lines.
Speaking before the UN General Assembly today, President Donald Trump announced that, unless North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, “the United States will have no choice but to totally destroy” the country. He sounded almost excited as he threatened, “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
North Korea is a serious problem, and not one of Trump’s making—the last four American presidents failed to impede North Korea’s progress towards a nuclear weapon. President George H.W. Bush took unilateral action, removing U.S. nuclear weapons and reducing America’s troop levels in the region, hoping to incentivize good behavior; Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush tried to negotiate restrictions; President Barack Obama mostly averted his eyes. North Korea defied them all.
Its faith-based 12-step program dominates treatment in the United States. But researchers have debunked central tenets of AA doctrine and found dozens of other treatments more effective.
J.G. is a lawyer in his early 30s. He’s a fast talker and has the lean, sinewy build of a distance runner. His choice of profession seems preordained, as he speaks in fully formed paragraphs, his thoughts organized by topic sentences. He’s also a worrier—a big one—who for years used alcohol to soothe his anxiety.
J.G. started drinking at 15, when he and a friend experimented in his parents’ liquor cabinet. He favored gin and whiskey but drank whatever he thought his parents would miss the least. He discovered beer, too, and loved the earthy, bitter taste on his tongue when he took his first cold sip.
His drinking increased through college and into law school. He could, and occasionally did, pull back, going cold turkey for weeks at a time. But nothing quieted his anxious mind like booze, and when he didn’t drink, he didn’t sleep. After four or six weeks dry, he’d be back at the liquor store.
The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.
It is insufficient to statethe obvious of Donald Trump: that he is a white man who would not be president were it not for this fact. With one immediate exception, Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—that bloody heirloom which cannot ensure mastery of all events but can conjure a tailwind for most of them. Land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it. Once upon the field, these men became soldiers, statesmen, and scholars; held court in Paris; presided at Princeton; advanced into the Wilderness and then into the White House. Their individual triumphs made this exclusive party seem above America’s founding sins, and it was forgotten that the former was in fact bound to the latter, that all their victories had transpired on cleared grounds. No such elegant detachment can be attributed to Donald Trump—a president who, more than any other, has made the awful inheritance explicit.
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.”
The sports network’s controversial transformation is driven more by the audience and less by elites than many observers realize.
Bryan Curtis reports a striking scene in “Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN,” his essay on America’s premier sports network and its relationship with politics. The staff of SportsCenter, a group under fire for producing shows that are “too political,” are gathered together to decide the contents of the 6 p.m. broadcast.
“ESPN’s transformation is usually described as swapping a highlight for a debate segment,” Curtis writes. “But the changes are even more elemental. At the SC6 staff meeting, everyone had their heads buried in their social media feeds, looking for content … Twitter is now the de facto coordinating producer of ESPN’s daytime lineup. The network’s old currency was a highlight of Klay Thompson shooting a 3. The new currency — and, indeed, that day’s top offering — was a video of Thompson dancing like a dork in a Chinese nightclub. Programming ESPN is like curating your Twitter feed: find the content that everyone’s talking about and craft the right joke.”
Old French Canadian genealogy records reveal how a harmful mutation can hide from natural selection in a mother's DNA.
The first King’s Daughters—or filles du roi—arrived in New France in 1663, and 800 more would follow over the next decade. Given their numbers, they were not literally the king’s daughters of course.
They were poor and usually of common birth, but their passage and dowry were indeed paid by King Louis XIV for the purpose of empire building: These women were to marry male colonists and have many children, thus strengthening France’s hold on North America.
And so they did. The filles du roi became the founding mothers of French Canadians, for whom these women are a source of historical pride. A grand old restaurant in Montreal was named after the filles du roi. So is a roller-derby team. French Canadians can usually trace their ancestry back to one or more of these women. “French Canadian genealogy is so well documented, it’s just a piece of cake to trace any line you have,” says Susan Colby, a retired archaeologist who comes from a French Canadian family and has done some of that tracing herself.
What was it like inside the brain of an ancient prophet?
James Kugel has been spent his entire scholarly career studying the Bible, but some very basic questions about it still obsess him. What was it about the minds of ancient Israelites that allowed them to hear and see God directly—or at least, to believe that they did? Were the biblical prophets literally hearing voices and seeing visions, understanding themselves to be transmitting God’s own exact words? If so, why did such direct encounters with God become rarer over time?
In his new and final book, The Great Shift, Kugel investigates these questions through the lens of neuroscientific findings. (The approach is reminiscent of other recent books, like Kabbalah: A Neurocognitive Approach to Mystical Experiences, co-written by a neurologist and a mysticism scholar.) First, Kugel uses biblical research to show that ancient people had a “sense of self” that was fundamentally different from the one modern Westerners have—and that this enabled them to experience and interpret prophecy differently than we do. Then he uses scientific research to show that we shouldn’t assume their view was wrong. If anything, our modern Western notion of the bounded, individual self is the anomaly; most human beings throughout history conceived of the self as a porous entity open to intrusions. In fact, much of the rest of the world today still does.
The gynecological device may have an ethically fraught history, but it's hard to improve on the design.
Few women enjoy pelvic exams: the crinkly paper dress, the awkward questions, the stirrups, the vague fear that can comes with doctors’s visits of any kind (what if they find something abnormal, something bad, something cancerous?). But perhaps no piece of the pelvic exam is as reviled as the vaginal speculum—the cold, clicking, duck-billed apparatus that lifts and separates the vaginal walls so a near-stranger can peer inside.
The speculum’s history is, like many medical histories, full of dubious ethics. Versions of the speculum have been found in medical texts dating back to the Greek physician Galen in 130 A.D. and shown up in archaeological digs as far back as 79 A.D. amidst the dust of Pompeii. (The artifact from Pompeii is a bit of a nightmare: two blades that open and close via a corkscrew-like mechanism.)
Millennials may have loved the big-box chain as kids, but as parents, they’d rather shop online.
In a year of constant bad news across the retail sector, Toys “R” Us has become a little engine that couldn’t, filing for bankruptcy in a federal court in Virginia Monday night. As part of its bankruptcy plan, the company will continue to operate most of its stores through the holiday season, when the company has traditionally pulled in the most revenue.
The bankruptcy marks a new phase for a chain that has struggled to find its way online, a vulnerability for a company whose primary customers are parents. While the convenience of online shopping is a boon to most consumers, for parents it may be even more of a draw. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the vast majority of households do not have a stay-at-home parent. After a full day of work, there’s dinner to be served, baths to be drawn, and bedtime rituals to be undertaken at length. Squeezing in a trip to the store is often impossible.
The Ken Burns / Lynn Novick 18-hour series on The Vietnam War began its run on PBS on Sunday night and continues through this week and next. I felt about as familiar with that era as I could imagine—with its tensions at the time, with the journalism and literature that came out of it, with the historical assessments, with the war’s role in music and movies and others parts of pop culture and public imagination. Even so I found this a tremendously revealing series. I recommend it very highly. Please find a way to watch—now, or in the many streaming and download alternatives they are making available.
As with any attempt to grapple with a topic this vast and complex, and of such emotional and historical consequence, the Burns/Novick series is bound to be controversial. For one example of an avenue of criticism, see this review by veteran Asia-hand correspondent Jim Laurie, who was on-scene in Vietnam and Cambodia during the war.