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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Isolationism and the Parties

A previous post discussed the question of isolationism in contemporary politics. At The New York Times, Sam Tanenhaus writes:
The Republican debate Tuesday night included many heated exchanges, but relatively few on the subject of foreign policy. There was instead surprising unanimity, whether it was Mitt Romney and Rick Perry debunking foreign aid, Ron Paul warning that America has become an empire, or Michele Bachmann, in what now seems an ill-timed critique, objecting to President Obama’s having “put us in Libya.”

Collectively, the candidates were channeling a broad shift in thinking on the right about America’s global responsibilities. It has been only a few years since George W. Bush labeled himself a “war president” leading a crusade for worldwide democratization. And the sentiments were not his alone. In December 2004 a majority of conservative Republicans agreed “it is best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs,” according to the Pew Research Center.

In 2011, a roughly equivalent majority believe America “should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems at home.”
The analysis is incomplete in a couple of important ways. First, Romney suggested that certain kinds of foreign aid are worthwhile. Second and more significant, while conservative Republicans have indeed shifted on America's role in the world, they are not alone. The Pew Research Center shows that Democrats and independents are more likely than conservative Republicans to say that we should pay less attention to problems overseas.