All politics is domestic

MSM campaign coverage doesn’t pay enough attention to foreign policy. Those stories on how much crappy food they have to eat in Iowa don’t just write themselves.

Michael Signer writes of his frustration, as John Edwards’ foreign-policy adviser, with the MSM’s inattention to the candidates’ foreign-policy positions (bloggers do a much better job, he says).

This is troubling, because what a candidate says on foreign policy matters. Often, major policy proposals are road maps to what the candidates actually do once elected. George W. Bush’s famous national security speech on Sept. 23, 1999, at the Citadel in South Carolina accurately portended his most provocative policies as president, from “transforming” our armed forces through technology and lighter brigades, to disengaging from the Clinton administration’s many diplomatic commitments.

Even if candidates fail to implement them in office, the proposals they put forth during a campaign are a reflection of their courage (or lack thereof), their intellectual depth, their fluency in difficult subject matter and their knowledge of history.

And sometimes they’re not:

Gov. George W. Bush: If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us; if we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we’ve got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.

I’m not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be. We can help. And maybe it’s just our difference in government, the way we view government. I mean I want to empower people. I want to help people help themselves, not have government tell people what to do. I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country and say, we do it this way, so should you.

Signer also says that

there were few deep contrast articles—the sort of thing we’d see from columnists such as Paul Krugman on domestic policy. The stories we saw tended only to compare the candidates’ foreign policy advisers, with the flavor of a fantasy baseball article in Sports Illustrated.

There’s a good reason for writing about the advisers—they have more foreign-policy experience (real and academic) than do the candidates, they’re writing the candidates’ positions, and most of them will end up running foreign policy should the candidate be elected. Michael Signer and John Edwards not excepted, I’m pretty sure. I can infer more from which (Bill) Clintonites have signed up with Obama and which with HRC, than I can from what either candidate says on the stump. Signer’s working for Edwards went some way to allaying my concerns about Edwards.

I share Signer’s concern that the press gives foreign-policy short shrift. I’m just not sure that more attention to what the candidates are saying will be especially illuminating. Whatever grand visions they may have will run hard up against reality with the first crisis they face in office, when character and advisers will count most.