Wanted: A Foreign Policy—Since the Bush administration decided to abandon its doctrine of pre-emptive military force in the wreckage and rubble of Iraq, conservative hawks have begun labeling President Bush “weak,” “soft,” and “Clintonian.” The cover of Time heralded “the end of cowboy diplomacy.” The establishment journal Foreign Affairs echoed this with “The End of the Bush Revolution.” All of which suggests that Bush has substituted one set of policies for another. In fact, since Bush’s only real preoccupation—the occupation of Iraq—went awry, his administration hasn’t bothered to find a replacement foreign policy. “It’s not so much a shift from unilateralism to multilateralism,” wrote Ivo Daalder, a Brookings Institution foreign-policy expert, “as it is a shift from relying on the use of force to doing nothing.”
As the exchange of Hezbollah and Israeli fire bombarded northern Israel and southern Lebanon, Bush relied on a peculiar brand of do-nothing diplomacy. He refused to talk to Iran and Syria, Hezbollah’s two largest backers. He declined to criticize Israel’s ferocious counter-attack when Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. He shrugged off a U.N. and European plan for getting peacekeepers into southern Lebanon. He took a week before announcing that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would head to the region—and then proclaimed no interest in an immediate cease-fire.
As a candidate in 1999, Bush mocked the Clinton administration for moving “from crisis to crisis like a cork in a current.” “The Bush Doctrine is actually being defined by action, as opposed to by words,” Bush said in 2003. Today, at a critical moment, he’s defined by neither.
A Democratic Wedge—When all else fails, Republicans have relied on so-called “wedge” issues—gays, guns, babies—to motivate their base and win elections. This year, however, Democrats have two potent wedges of their own: the minimum wage and stem cell research, both of which appeal to swing voters, excite the Democratic base and divide Republicans. The opposition of die-hard Christian conservatives to embryonic stem cell research prompted George W. Bush to issue his first presidential veto, which blocked legislation passed by Congress that would have expanded such research. And the opposition of the business community to raising the minimum wage repeatedly forced the Republican congressional leadership to quash a vote on an increase, from $5.15 an hour to $7.15. Some Christian conservatives view the wage increase positively as a moral issue. Certain industries, particularly biotech, believe embryonic stem cell research would expand the economy. The split is putting Republican candidates in a bind.
Six states have passed minimum wage increases this year that bring the wage above the federal level—and six more states will address the issue in November ballot initiatives. Democrats hope the minimum wage will do for them what gay marriage did for Republicans in 2004, when thirteen states passed constitutional bans. Stem cell research has shaken up a number of Congressional races. Maryland’s Republican Senate candidate, Michael Steele, compared the science to research undertaken by Nazi Germany—in a room full of elderly Jews. In Missouri, Senator Jim Talent flip-flopped on his support for a constitutional amendment to protect stem cell research. His opponent, Claire McCaskill, responded in a Democratic radio address by touting the promise of a cure for Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
Even given these new wedge issues, Republicans are sticking to the familiar playbook. As the Middle East burned, House Republicans debated gay marriage, the pledge of allegiance and where to put a newly purchased 29-foot cross.
Conservative Broadcasting—The attack on public broadcasting reached its zenith in 1995, when Newt Gingrich tried to defund PBS and NPR. More recently, the Bush administration tried to instill “balance” by appointing three Republican fundraisers to the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The latest nominee to the board is Warren Bell, a TV producer andNational Review contributor who labels himself “thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues.” Bell said the nomination “took me by surprise” and that he has “limited” familiarity with NPR and no prior public broadcasting experience. In other words, he’s perfect for the job.