All presidential candidates should learn at least one lesson about their foreign policy platform: for purposes of the campaign, it is not only about the position you take or the issue you talk about; it is the clear distinctness of your stance on that issue. Why is this? First, consider a couple of points.
At a debate at the American Enterprise Institute called “How Should the Conservative Movement Evolve?” , Tevi Troy of the Hudson Institute and Commentary recently argued that conservatives should not bank too much on foreign policy issues while running for office because, the foreign policy “sands shift very quickly,” making it very difficult to know what the issues will be by the time Election Day comes around.
Furthermore, economist Joseph Schumpeter once made the point that the average voter tends to know the least about foreign policy, because by nature people know the most about the things that impact them directly. Foreign policy is “over there,” and it is neither surprising nor an indictment of a typical voter that he or she is less informed and engaged in what goes on overseas. Thereby, it is not always a sure bet that Americans will agree with a candidate’s nuanced understanding of world politics.
For these reasons, those trying to become the nation’s next commander-in-chief cannot rely too heavily on the specifics of his position when attempting to sway voters. What he or she should keep in mind is how Rand Paul prosecuted his recent filibuster, while avoiding the mistake made by presidential candidates John Kerry and Mitt Romney, who failed to differentiate themselves from the position of their opponents.
When John Kerry faced George W. Bush in 2004, he was noted for his opposition to the president’s handling of the Iraq War – a war which he initially supported, before becoming disenchanted with it, as did many of his fellow Democrats. When pressed on specific decisions made by President Bush, then-Senator Kerry often conceded that his decision would have been the same, but that he would have executed the plans better.
Similarly, Mitt Romney, in his foreign policy and national security debate with President Obama, and Paul Ryan, in his debate with Vice President Biden, criticized the administration’s handling of Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11. However, neither articulated a clear differentiation between what the administration did and what they would have done. Let’s face it: “I would have done the same thing, only better,” is not exactly a phrase that convinces voters that you understand the issue better.
In contrast, when Rand Paul filibustered John Brennan’s nomination as CIA director in protest to the Obama administration’s position on drone strikes, he took a relatively off-the-radar issue, staked out a position as far from the administration as possible and stood by it, turning it into the hottest issue of the week. All across America, people took notice. Many stood with Rand, while most of those who didn’t still respected his action. He did it by taking a position few were talking about in regular America and strongly opposing it and exposing its defects.
John F. Kennedy is remembered for saying that “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Ronald Reagan is remembered for calling the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire.” Voters who may not understand the complexities of the world system will still desire a commander-in-chief willing to stand by a clear moral and intellectual vision, because it implies strength, and a strong leader is necessary to keep the country safe.
On top of the understandable concern over whether the president thought he could hit them with a drone strike while they sat sipping their grande soy caramel macchiato, Americans were attracted to the unwavering stance taken by Senator Paul in clear opposition to the administration’s stated position. Future presidential candidates should taken note and clearly define how their position differs from that of their opponents.
J. Cal Davenport is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Image of Hofstra University before 2012 presidential debate courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire