“I wish I could tell you that the world is a safe place today. It’s not.” With these words, delivered at a Memorial Day commemoration last Monday in San Diego, Mitt Romney perpetuated what is perhaps the greatest single myth in American foreign policy – that we live in a world of lurking danger and rising threats.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the world today is safer than at any point in human history. Wars of all kind, including civil wars, are on the decline; and inter-state war, in particular, is even rarer. According to the Uppsala University Conflict Database, in 1992, there were 53 armed conflicts raging in 39 countries around the world; in 2010, there were 30 armed conflicts in 25 countries.
And when wars do occur, they are for the most part low-intensity conflicts that, on average, kill about 90 percent fewer people than did violent struggles in the 1950s, according to the Human Security Report Project at the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University. In fact, the first 10 years of this century witnessed fewer deaths from war than any decade in the last century
Sixty years ago in London, Queen Elizabeth was crowned in succession to her father, the now famously stammering chain-smoker George VI. For most Brits the queen’s Diamond Jubilee is a chance to celebrate her reign with street parties, fireworks, concerts, and pageants along the Thames. They will be toasting the woman who has so far presided over 12 prime ministers, including perhaps the greatest of them all, Winston Churchill.
It is a mark of Elizabeth’s benign demeanor and quiet charm that she will be celebrated not only in the 54 member states of the Commonwealth, the independent nations that were Britain’s former colonies and dominions, but around the world, too. Few countries do pomp as well as the Brits, as the weddings of Prince William to Kate and Prince Charles to Diana attest. But not all Americans, when they watch the Jubilee, will grasp the true role of the queen.
She is a constitutional monarch, which means she wields no political power. She personifies the state and opens sessions of Parliament by reading out the new legislative program her prime ministers have written, as if she herself had decided what the people need. She keeps her views strictly to herself and does as she is asked by elected officials, whether it is greeting fellow heads of state or dubbing new knights with a sword.
In the late 1970s, the cutting edge of communications technologies was the autodialer, a machine capable of calling up scores of people in one shot, with little human involvement. It was innovative, and annoying. By the early ’90s, Congress had had enough. “Computerized calls,” railed South Carolina Democrat Fritz Hollings from the Senate floor, “are the scourge of modern civilization.”
And so, Congress legislated. But the focus was on commercial calls. Mindful of the free flow of speech and – let’s be honest – interested in self-preservation, lawmakers exempted political calls from its Telecommunications Consumer Protection Act. But Congress decided that some phones were too sensitive to get even autodialed political calls: those in hospitals, those designated for emergency purposes – and those in our pockets.
But here we are, some two decades later, and voters across the country are getting political text messages they never asked for.
According to recent news reports, the Romney foreign policy team is trying to figure out what the presumptive Republican candidate thinks America’s role in the world should be. He’s been clear regarding the Iranian nuclear weapons program, promising that if he’s elected, Iran won’t get the bomb. But what about Afghanistan, say, or China? With less than six months left till Election Day, is he going to articulate distinctive foreign policy positions, or will he let Obama dictate the terms of the debate?
It would be understandable, given Romney’s desire to keep focused on jobs and the economy, if he were reluctant to get too far into the weeds on foreign policy. But come November, the American people will not be electing a financial adviser. They’ll be electing the leader of a world power.
Romney should not actually have much trouble outflanking Obama on foreign policy. The White House prides itself, rightly, on killing Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, and other jihadists who threatened U.S. citizens, interests and allies. But the national security strategy of a superpower with interests across the world cannot be reduced to counterterrorism. Nor can our global responsibilities be fulfilled, in the immortal phrase, by “leading from behind.”
There is something oddly retro about Mitt Romney. He appears to have sprung from a nostalgic fifties “Hairspray” world where women sported beehives and cars had fins. Nor has his economic thinking kept up with the times. Although he backed Obama’s $787 billion-dollar Keynesian stimulus, as soon as the borrowers’ remorse that sparked the Tea Party took hold, he turned on a dime and embraced austerity and paying off the national debt.
As he declares on his website: “The only recipe for fiscal health and a thriving private economy is a government that spends within its means.” He signed the “cut, cap and balance” pledge that will tie his hands if he makes it to the White House. Not trusting himself, perhaps, to remain fiscally continent, he favors an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, obliging Congress to put balancing the budget before all other measures. He would cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP, a feat that would entail about $500 billion in cuts. On day one of his presidency, he says he would send Congress a bill that would cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent.
His proposed economies include (his estimates in parentheses): repealing Obama’s healthcare plan ($95 billion); privatizing Amtrak ($1.6 billion); reducing federal payments to the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation ($600 million); eliminating family planning subsidies ($300 million); cutting foreign aid ($100 million); capping Medicaid (more than $100 billion); replacing only half those who leave the federal workforce ($4 billion); ending the Davis-Bacon Act ($11 billion) and paying federal employees lower wages ($47 billion); and that old elusive crowd-pleaser, reducing waste and fraud ($60 billion).
Joining 26 states, the National Federation of Independent Business challenged the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in March. It claimed the “individual mandate” is unconstitutional and would bankrupt small businesses with unnecessary costs.
Yet while the NFIB claims its multimillion-dollar lawsuit is on behalf of job creators and small businesses everywhere, it’s unclear whether small businesses genuinely support the NFIB position. A close look at its record suggests that the NFIB uses the politically valuable mantle of small business to pursue an agenda that may take its cues from elsewhere.
Is there such a thing as a Republican establishment? Yes, if you trust Ann Coulter, and she thinks she knows exactly who they are – “political consultants, The Wall Street Journal, corporate America, former Bush advisers and television pundits” – which is a sly way of boasting that she is a member of this select band of behind-the-scenes power brokers.
To the American Spectator’s Steve McCann, the GOP establishment consists of: top lawmakers past and present “whose livelihood and narcissistic demands depends upon fealty to Party and access to government largesse”; “the majority of the conservative media … whose proximity to power and access is vital to their continued standard of living”; conservative think-tank staffers “waiting to latch on to the next Republican administration for employment and ego-gratification”; and donors and consultants whose businesses would benefit from a Republican in the White House.
George Will, surely an archbishop in the GOP establishment if it exists, takes a suitably contrary line, declaring without cracking a smile that “the Republican establishment died at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1964, when Goldwater was nominated against their frenzied wishes.” “Google the Republican establishment, you’ll get 20 million hits,” he explained. “Google the Loch Ness monster and you’ll get a whole bunch of hits. They’re both dead or never existed.”
On Wednesday, President Obama declared his evolution complete. In an interview with ABC News he said: “At a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”
Gay-rights groups rejoiced; conservative groups scolded. But what the president thinks about gay marriage is, ultimately, symbolic. There is a different issue on which Obama could achieve real, tangible results for gays and lesbians, and gain electoral advantage over Mitt Romney: employment discrimination.
Obama has already done everything he can on gay marriage. His administration has declared the federal law banning gay marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), to be discriminatory and declined to defend it in court. He has extended spousal benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees. Marriage laws, on the other hand, are written at the state level. Even a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, which Romney supports and Obama already opposed, is not actually signed by the president.
In finally evolving to support marriage equality, President Obama has not only placed himself firmly on the right side of history with respect to an issue of fundamental rights and justice but he has also thrown down the gauntlet for Republicans, especially his presumed challenger, Mitt Romney.
In his comments to ABC News, the president said his attitude toward gay marriage has been shaped over time by voters and members of his own staff “who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together” – who are clearly in love. In other words, the president let the human reality around him shape his personal views and will now lead accordingly – a stark contrast, say, with Mitt Romney, who seems to have little grasp of the struggles and experiences of actual voters and instead rotates his political viewpoints as often as he rotates the cars on his vehicle elevator. In President Obama’s “evolution,” America saw a leader who is not afraid to be wrong and not afraid to change his mind. It’s refreshing.
And now it’s the Republicans’ turn. As Fox News anchor Shepard Smith suggested in reporting the president’s shift, Republicans are “on the wrong side of history.” Indeed. But they have plenty of time to make amends. Republicans should be ashamed enough that theirs is the party that stood in the way of interracial marriage and civil rights. Is that really a legacy the GOP wants to continue into the 21st century? It seems to me the GOP has a choice between courting the open-minded next generation of voters, or continuing to be marred by scandals in which anti-gay Republican after anti-gay Republican is embarrassingly outed and shamed. Apparently this is a tough choice for the GOP, which would rather keep implicitly firing up bigotry than stand firm for equality.