The last time the Democrats were strong on foreign policy, it was 1964. In the lead-up to the election, Democratic candidate Lyndon B. Johnson, fueled by the Cold War nuclear fervor unleashed by the Cuban Missile Crisis, released the “Daisy” ad to the American public. The minute-long snippet features the fate of a little girl picking flowers, her innocent face juxtaposed against the ten-second countdown of the atomic bomb. This little piece of campaign advertising gold is both a souvenir of a deranged time and a reminder of just how much foreign policy can dominate whom we put in the Oval Office.
After the days of Vietnam War hawks, the Democratic Party entered military dark days as the Republican Party regained the foothold of masochism abroad: Reagan promoted the “Star Wars” global defense system to fight the Soviets, Papa Bush sought the Scud missiles of Saddam Hussein, and Dubya established the “You Are Either With Us or Against Us” Doctrine. Over time, the Democrats being weak in the face of our enemies became a political axiom of the election season – until Barack Obama took office.
With the Labor Department’s news of not-so-spectacular unemployment returns for March, the Obama campaign needed to shift the national conversation away from the depressing economy. It needed to be a topic where there was no lingering Supreme Court decision in the future or a do-nothing Congress that was all too easy to blame. It had to be an area in which Obama’s decisions is the be-all and end-all, no questions asked or challenges given. In executive terms, this translates into one thing.
Published in the magazine Foreign Policy, the Obama tent laid out a manifesto for the American people, proof positive of their head-honcho-kicking-ass overseas since 2008. The article was a response to an open letter written by Romney’s top officials, in which the President was chastised for the whole “flexibility after my election” gaffe between him and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev a few weeks ago in South Korea.
From the war drum with Iran to the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, eighteen national security experts OKed the administration’s actions and questioned Romney’s sanity on international affairs. Imagine that: Somehow, after one of the most imperial administrations in our history, blue has already replaced red as the preferred color of destruction in Washington.
With that being said, the possible Mormon-in-chief could be the first victim of this monumental shift in modern American politics. With a record as expansive (and therefore arguably as intense) as his predecessor, Barack puts Mitt in a no-win situation come November for two reasons:
First, Romney has nothing to work with: The closest he’s come to danger is strapping his poor pooch onto his minivan roof during a family vacation (for a refresher on the issue, check in with Gail Collins’ column in the Times every week or so). This is the risk one takes running as an ex-governor: Everyone knows that your experience with anything remotely foreign is probably bullshit. (Just ask Palin about Russia.) To offer a counterpoint and counter-worldview with nothing tangible in your argument is political poison.
Second, it must be noted that “the Maverick” was the last Republican nominee. Romney is taking the throne previously held by John McCain – that guy’s entire persona, as well as physical attributes, screamed out Semper Fi. Even though he lost to a young senator from Illinois who hadn’t even voted on Iraq War authorization, the old senator from Arizona encapsulated the masculinity that voters want in a post-9/11 world. In other words, it doesn’t help that Mitt’s rich-guy reputation is as well-known to us as the story of McCain in the Vietcong prison.
As the race on the right finishes up, it should be interesting to see how this discussion morphs into an actual debate topic over the next few months. Mitt – and any other Republican for that matter – knows not to re-invigorate Dubya’s legacy: This is guaranteed electoral blowback. But now he no longer needs to: That job has already been taken.