WHAT IF THIS ELECTION ISN'T ABOUT FOREIGN POLICY?

I want to put into conversation two fascinating new pieces of journalism: First, Matt Bai's New York Times Magazine piece on how the legacy of Clintonism is playing out in the Democratic primary, and second, a TPM Election Central interview with Paul Krugman about his evolving feud with the Obama campaign, which he accuses of being tone deaf when it comes to progressive domestic policy. These pieces share a conclusion: that the 2008 presidential election will not be about foreign policy at all, but will be a referendum on the state of the United States and its two parties here at home.

To this I say, hear hear!

Blogger friends, including Matthew Yglesias, have long argued that since the president can wield more direct authority over foreign policy than domestic, a candidate's international platform should trump their proposals or records on issues such as health care, Social Security, education, reproductive rights, and the like. I happen to believe the president has immense agenda-driving power in both realms that shouldn't be understated. But this debate is seeming less and less relevant. As the Democratic primary progresses, it has become clear that Iraq will not be its defining issue. Hillary Clinton, despite recent missteps, has successfully neutralized the baggage of her bad record on Iraq by swearing to quickly redeploy most troops once in office. Here's how Krugman puts it:

I guess I've been going on the view that no Democrat is not going to end this war, and no Democrat is going to start another war. I have not felt that foreign policy is the defining issue in the race to the nomination. Whether we're going to get universal health care is much more of a question.

One might argue Krugman is naively underplaying evidence (the Iranian Revolutionary Guard vote) that HRC's foreign policy instincts are well to the right of Obama's. But to the extent that he does, so do, it seems, many Democratic primary voters. That's why this contest has turned into a debate over corporate influence, economic insecurity, and health care. Much of the credit for driving the debate in that direction belongs to John Edwards, of course. And with the ascendancy of both Mike Huckabee and anti-immigration rhetoric in the GOP race, the Republicans are following suit and also turning toward domestic politics.

--Dana Goldstein

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