The Myth That Domestic Affairs Trump Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

STILL infant, the l992 presidential campaign in one regard already resembles its recent predecessors: It proceeds by inflating one electoral myth after another, much as a street vendor pumps helium into a child's balloon. It then watches with fascination as the myth swells; and when it explodes, it goes on to another without pause or apology.

The latest of these curious political trial balloons is the notion that what really matters to Americans are domestic matters, not foreign affairs, and that the president's domination of the latter is actually, mirabile dictu, a disadvantage.

The public, we are told, faults George Bush for spending too much time on events abroad. An innocent observer might be excused for thinking that this notion is too neatly self-serving - for Democrats frustrated by the acclaim the Republican president has received for his handling of the Gulf war and relations with the former Soviet Union.

But no, even a nervous White House rushes to inflate the myth, by hurriedly postponing the president's trip to the Far East. Of all the pumped up, hyped up, silly ideas floated in recent campaigns, the argument that foreign affairs takes a back seat to domestic is easily the most ludicrous from a historical perspective. For in fact, foreign policy and national security issues have been dominant, or at the least co-equal, in every United States presidential election from Franklin Roosevelt's third-term victory in 1940 on to the present. Where is the exception?

Certainly not the 1952 contest, when Dwight Eisenhower, who had made his mark leading the allied armies to victory in Europe, capped his campaign by promising to conclude an Asian war: If elected, he said, "I shall go to Korea." Neither was it 1960, when the big issue was an alleged Republican-caused "missile gap," and when the newly elected John Kennedy, in an inaugural speech dominated by foreign policy, promised that the US would "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty" around the world.

The Vietnam-war-centered elections of l964, 1968, and 1972 were no exceptions, either. And the idea that it's really domestic issues that matter didn't take root in the 1980 election.

The campaign of incumbent Jimmy Carter scored its most telling blows by charging that Ronald Reagan would be rash, even "trigger happy" in commanding the world's most powerful military. …