Foreign Policy and Cultural Politics
Daniel Larison advises Republicans against attacking Obama on foreign-policy grounds:
Despite the endless inane attacks from the GOP, most of the public approves of Obama’s handling of foreign policy and a plurality approves of his handling of various national security issues. This is the wrong place for Republicans attack him. It is clearly on fiscal and economic policy where they may be able to gain a significant advantage, and this is kind of policy argument for which Romney is well-suited. Instead he wastes his time and makes a fool of himself discussing a subject he doesn’t seem to understand very well.
Larison is right to point out that Obama’s foreign policy doesn’t give the GOP much of an opening. A lot of hawks will really, really want to attack Obama on these grounds, but there’s no reason to think that the American people are anything but supportive of Obama’s broadly realist approach. That said, I don’t think Larison has realized what kind of attack is happening here.* When Romney hits Obama for saying something “on Arabic TV,” we’re no longer simply talking about foreign policy; we’ve leaped into the realm of cultural and identity politics. The suggestion is not that Obama is merely weak or pandering a la John Kerry. Romney is trying out the theme being developed in pieces like the Lowry-Ponnuru essay on exceptionalism: However sensible Obama’s policies may be, he is not a real American. He’s a European, or a Muslim, maybe both.
In a post-9/11 world, foreign policy issues have the same explosive cultural resonance that law-and-order issues once did. The next generation of Willie Horton ads won’t be about prisons and parole; they’ll be about national security. Democrats, and pundits, would do well to take notice.
*I still agree with Larison that Romney is ill-suited to such an attack. It’s hard to portray your opponent as alien when you seem like you were beamed in from outer space.