In the second of his guest blogs for the CPS, Ted Bromund highlights how foreign policy is becoming increasingly important in the build up to the 2012 Presidential race
Conventional wisdom holds that elections in democracies are normally won or lost on bread and butter issues: if personal income is rising, the incumbent is likely to win. The conventional wisdom is partly right, and for that reason alone, President Obama’s chances are getting worse by the day. The latest Census report shows that median U.S. household income, adjusted for inflation, has fallen to its 1997 level. True, the media frequently mischaracterizes poverty, but the picture is still bleak.
It’s fundamentally for that reason that in the latest Gallup Poll, the President has fallen below 40 percent approval. That is significant. Both Democrats and Republicans can normally expect to win 40 percent of the vote simply by showing up: it’s the remaining 20 percent that’s in play. Failing to hold even that normal 40 percent is a sign that your base is falling away. It is for that reason that the White House is spinning so energetically on its historic defeat in Tuesday’s special election in New York to fill the vacancy left by the self-exposing former Congressman Anthony Weiner.
The district in question, NY-9, is the most Jewish in the United States, and the Jewish vote is normally reliably part of the Democratic base. Jews are unlikely to vote en masse for a Republican in 2012, but losing even some of the Jewish vote could have major implications for Mr. Obama in Florida, a key swing state. What is more interesting, though, is the way that the Democratic defeat in NY-9, which the victorious Republican framed as a referendum on President Obama, shows how foreign policy is slipping into the 2012 race, at a time when all eyes seem to be focused on the economy.
The Administration has landed itself in an impossible position on Israel, having spent most of its first three years in office pursuing its misguided belief that democratic Israel, not its dictatorial Arab neighbors, is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East. The inevitable result of this policy has been to encourage the Palestinians to push for a (legally meaningless) recognition of statehood by the U.N. General Assembly, a policy the Administration opposes.
One can see why the Administration feels this way: as one commentator points out, more Americans believe that the U.S. government has covered up contact with aliens (37 percent) than support Palestinian statehood (26 percent). But we are past the point where voting the right way at the U.N. will assuage the doubts of the voters: the Administration’s pattern is too well established. NY-9 wasn’t just about the Administration’s policy on Israel – jobs matter in NY-9 too – but it’s a sign that you can indeed lose votes in the U.S. on foreign policy issues.
The fate of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS to its friends, LOST to its foes) shows that all too clearly. Two weeks ago, a major Administration push to secure Senate ratification of LOST, which was rejected by President Reagan (with memorable support from Margaret Thatcher) in 1982, was clearly imminent. Now, quietly, the treaty has disappeared, and hearings have been postponed to the spring. Given the American electoral cycle, that means the treaty is unlikely to go anywhere until 2013, at the earliest.
What accounts for this sudden retreat? Well, only he knows for sure, but Sen. Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, faces a tough primary test against a Republican challenger, and may not be interested in holding hearings on a hot-button treaty like LOST at a time when he’s under fire at home in Indiana for not being sufficiently conservative.
Finally, there’s trade. The Administration has proclaimed its support for pending free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, but it also wants an expansion of Trade Adjustment Assistance, which helps workers and companies deal with the consequences of freer trade. While the EU’s free trade agreement with South Korea went into effect on July 1, the U.S. has been fiddling, with President Obama stating that “the only thing preventing us from passing these bills is the refusal by some in Congress to put country ahead of party.” In fact, the Administration had never even sent the agreements to Congress, and as the Washington Post concluded in August, “There is actually strong support for these agreements within the Republican Party . . .the administration in the end is responsible for making passage of TAA a condition for submitting the trade deals.”
It’s for that reason that Mitt Romney’s support for a “Reagan Economic Zone,” a new international organization focused on trade and limited to countries that have “embraced free enterprise and open markets,” is so interesting. The liberal Boston Globe described the proposal as having a “cringe-worthy name,” for “making an abject appeal to the GOP base,” and as drawing “widespread mockery.” But the basic point remains that one of the two leading contenders for the Republican nomination has publicly identified himself both with a U.S. commitment to new international institutions based on freedom, and with Reagan’s support for free trade. If these are the kind of things that constitute an “abject appeal to the GOP base” that’s good to know, because they are the exact opposite of the unthinking isolationism that the media all too frequently ascribes to American conservatives.