Can you believe it? Some reporter, not even an American, had the gall to stand up in New Hampshire and ask the candidate a question about foreign affairs. The fellow wanted assurances that America would continue to have a role in the world. Well, of course, the candidate was ready for a character like that and with pleasure let him have it.
"My friend," he said, "this campaign is not about the outside world. It is about the U.S.A."
The candidate happened to be Patrick Buchanan. But it could have been said by his Republican challenger or any of the Democratic candidates, and it reflected the tone of the New Hampshire campaign. World? What World?
For Buchanan, that's logical. He is selling America First. He is tough enough and shrewd enough to keep that same phrase used in the '30s and '40s by American isolationists who tried to block the struggle against Hitler. America First means America Only. Fine, for Buchanan.
But what excuse do the others have for buying the pollsters' line _ the insulting line that Americans, who from the second decade of this century entered into the world with more responsibility, courage, generosity and understanding of national and personal self-interest than any people on Earth, have suddenly become stupid and cowardly louts incapable of comprehending that their jobs, health and safety are tied to what happens in the rest of the world?
President Bush does touch on the world once in a while. Trouble is, he routinely claims victory in the Persian Gulf and credit for the defeat of Communism, neither of which is exactly so. He seems embarrassed about his interest in the world.
He shouldn't worry. None of the other candidates seems interested in or capable of taking him on about the subject. They might have to give some real clues about what they would do if they actually ever had to face "foreign" affairs in the White House. But from the day after election President Whoever will have to deal with such "foreign" matters as:
How to prevent the collapse of Communism from becoming the collapse of hope that might create new dictatorships _ and goodbye peace dividends. Should we fight Saddam Hussein, leave bad enough alone, or craftily arm new dictators to oppose him, so we can fight them some day?
Nuclear proliferation _ anybody got any real plans? Any program for getting the Chinese Communists out of the missiles-to-Mideast trade or stopping their convict labor from undercutting U.S workers?
Germany, Japan and the logical coming economic alliance between them _ any interest, Mr. Candidate? And how long can we think of Latin America only as the source of drugs and refugees.
In the last Democratic debate only one "foreign" question was even asked _ a loaded one about whether Boris Yeltsin or American workers should get $10-billion if they asked at the same time. Only Jerry Brown got it right _ a country that can afford hundreds of billions to patch up the bank scandals can afford a little help to both Yeltsin and the American worker. In their summations, all five ignored world affairs.
All the candidates have talked, frightened or fooled themselves into believing that in this one election, the voters have become too stupid to understand that "foreign" affairs have cost Americans more lives than all recessions put together and can again turn murderous.
Suddenly we also are too stupid to understand the economic bottom line of foreign affairs _ that imports and exports in decent balance are the only hope for the jobs the politicians keep promising.
The candidates run from the world. The one who understands he can run but he can't hide, and turns to say so _ that's the one worth electing.
New York Times News Service