The Paradox of Presidential Campaigns

Foreign policy issues were a distinctly minor concern in the 1992 presidential election campaign, Some pundits, ever eager to extrapolate the latest trend, have spied in this the defining American political reality of the post-cold war era. Whatever the truth about long-term trends, there were specific reasons for the neglect of foreign policy in 1992. First, the recession fueled a widespread economic insecurity that, in any election year, would have been a dominant political fact. Secondly, candidate Bill Clinton deliberately downplayed a category of issues that he knew were his weak suit and played up the domestic issues that helped him patch together a (barely) victorious Democratic coalition. “It’s the economy, stupid,” was Jim Carville’s strategic doctrine. Thirdly-and more surprisingly-George Bush was so spooked by the Carville doctrine that he downplayed his strong suit in the conviction that the American people truly did not value his diplomatic expertise.

Will it be the same in 1996? Will foreign policy issues disappear from the screen? How will the Republicans handle these issues in the primaries and the general election? And what does it all mean for the country… and the world?

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