September 12, 2008

Obsession with Palin’s Foreign Policy Experience Ignores Total Lack at Top of Dem Ticket 16 Years Ago

How interesting that ABC’s Charles Gibson, as noted in this Associated Press dispatch, focused on Sarah Palin’s foreign-policy bona fides when he interviewed her (a transcript is here). Also note the biased AP evaluation (bolds are mine):

John McCain running mate Sarah Palin sought Thursday to defend her qualifications but struggled with foreign policy ….. acknowledging she’s never met a foreign head of state.

….. She also said she had never met a head of state and added: “If you go back in history and if you ask that question of many vice presidents, they may have the same answer that I just gave you.”

Indeed. Palin’s contention gains more support if you look at the prior experience of at least a couple of presidents and vice-presidents during the past few decades:

  • As Georgia’s governor, Jimmy Carter had little, if any, foreign experience when he ran and won in 1976, though to be fair he had some military background.
  • Dan Quayle was criticized for many reasons in 1988, but I don’t recall the press harping on his relatively light foreign policy credentials. Maybe it was because there was already a great deal of it at the top of the ticket. (Wait a minute — Isn’t the McCain-Palin experience mix analogous? Hmm.)
  • Spiro Agnew in 1968? There’s no need to elaborate, and the same argument made with Quayle applies.

But for the moment, let’s focus on the election of 1992.

As Bill Clinton was challenging GOP incumbent George Bush, media presidential readiness standards in foreign policy were quite different — conveniently so, given the fact that the Democratic nominee was the clear lightweight.

Here’s how the New York Times’s Tom Friedman opened an October 4, 1992 analysis of the foreign policy ideas promulgated by Arkansas governor Clinton (bold is mine):

Under the pressure of a Presidential campaign, Gov. Bill Clinton has been trying to outline his own unique foreign policy, while at the same time fending off criticism from the Bush White House that he is a closet dove masquerading as a hawk and that his experience in world affairs is limited to breakfast at the International House of Pancakes.

Ha ha. Friedman never attempted to refute the criticism of Clinton’s lack of experience, because he couldn’t. In fact, he reinforced points made by the Arkansas governor’s critics (bold is mine):

As a man who has spent his entire career in state government in Arkansas, Mr. Clinton has no foreign policy record to run on or be judged against. Therefore, critics say, he has had the luxury of defining himself purely through a series of speeches. None of his ideas have had to meet the test of the real world.

….. His foreign policy travels as Governor consisted of three trade missions to Japan, Taiwan and other East Asian nations, two to Western Europe and one to the Soviet Union.

It is highly unlikely that Mr. Clinton met a foreign head of state during those generously-named “foreign policy” travels.

Friedman also never referred to Clinton’s vice-presidential running mate, Al Gore, in an attempt to buck up Mr. Clinton’s obvious inexperience. Vice-presidential credibility on foreign policy apparently wasn’t that important 16 years ago, even with a known neophyte at the top of the ticket.

Friedman, in his mind, explained away the Democratic nominee’s problem by:

  • Citing how Clinton had “laid out his internationalist vision in four speeches over the last year.” Do you think the critics would be impressed if Palin gave a few speeches?
  • Noting his reliance on “elder statesmen” — “Clinton has embraced so many advisers that ….. no single adviser stands out as first among equals.” Has anyone questioned John McCain’s foreign policy team?
  • Incredibly, allowing Clinton to frame the domestic economy as a foreign policy issue — not just one of many, but, in a preview of the eight years of convoluted logic we all had to endure, the single most important:

    “In this new era our first foreign priority and our domestic priority are one and the same: reviving our economy,” he said in a recent speech in Los Angeles. “This has been the Administration’s most glaring foreign policy failure. An anemic, debt-laden economy undermines our diplomacy, makes it harder for us to secure favorable trade agreements and compromises our ability to finance essential military actions.

Clinton’s criticism of the “anemic” and supposedly foreign policy-driving economy was made during a year in which economic growth was over 4%.

In his Palin interview, as Gibson went after her foreign policy experience, the Alaska governor struck back adroitly:

She said she brings expertise in making the country energy independent as a former chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

She acknowledged that national security encompasses more than energy but said: “I want you to not lose sight of the fact that energy is a foundation of national security.”

Note to AP: That assertion is better than a “try.” Palin’s concrete tie-in of a specific economic policy issue to national security is much stronger than Clinton’s squishy and falsely premised 1992 generality, and indicates a much firmer grip on reality.

Comparing John McCain’s vice-presidential selection to the Dems’ 1992 presidential nominee, the clear conclusion is: Advantage Palin — even before we get into how Clinton left us vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks.

Cross-posted at



  1. Tom,

    Speaking of Palin attacks, Paul Hackett is giving Ohio Dem’s advise on attacking her. Based on the nature of his advise I’m doubly glad he lost to Schmidt.

    Comment by largebill — September 13, 2008 @ 12:12 am

  2. #1, caught it earlier. The guy has officially joined the unhinged.

    I hope the people who thought it would be a good idea for Jean Schmidt to lose to Hackett in 2005 so that he could be defeated in 2006 with a “better” Republican read it too. Given how 2006 went, an incumbent Hackett would probably have won, and we’d have yet another scorched-earth guy in Congress.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 13, 2008 @ 2:29 am

  3. Guys-No one would have questioned Palin’s foreign policy experience if the entire McCain campaign hadn’t used such lame defenses like *it’s so close to Russia*.

    Come on. We need a better campaign to back the better candidates. Stop making lame excuses or refutations. Just tell the truth, she’s a big part of the party’s future and brings fresh thinking to DC (which it sorely needs).

    Comment by G Davis — September 13, 2008 @ 10:18 pm

  4. #3, that first para is BS. Team Obama and surrogates have gone after her over dozens of things McCain never said a word about, haven’t they?

    You must not have noticed that this blog is not part of the McCain campaign.

    Comment by TBlumer — September 14, 2008 @ 12:38 am

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