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After a “Referendum” Election

By Andrew J. Polsky
The 2012 presidential election has assumed the form of a popular referendum on Barack Obama’s four years in the White House. Put simply, neither the president nor his Republican opponent Mitt Romney has said much about what he would do if elected. Voters instead are being asked to render their verdict on the past. One consequence is that the winner, whether Obama or Romney, will not be able to invoke a mandate for policy initiatives over the next four years.

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Reflections on the first presidential debate

By Andrew J. Polsky
As the first presidential debate recedes in the rearview mirror, we may be able to gain clearer perspective on what it means to the 2012 presidential race. For starters, the clear winner was the news media. No one likes a one-sided presidential campaign, and that was the direction of the contest over several weeks prior to the debate.

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Afghanistan 2013: The road narrows

By Andrew J. Polsky
Three recent developments in Afghanistan underscore the difficulty that will confront the next American president, whether he is Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. First, as Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced, the last of the 33,000 additional troops sent to Afghanistan by President Obama two years ago to quell the revived Taliban insurgency have now returned home.

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The unquestioned center

By Andrew J. Polsky
The third presidential debate made clear why Governor Mitt Romney has chosen not to wage a campaign based on foreign policy: there is simply no political gain in it. On issue after issue, he took stands effectively indistinguishable from those of President Barack Obama. Romney quibbled over details of timing or emphasis, asserting he would have taken action sooner or more forcefully. But on a wide range of questions — no military intervention in Syria, withdrawing from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, use of drones, sanctions on Iran — the challenger’s positions are substantively the same as the president.

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The two-term era

By Andrew J. Polsky
When Barack Obama won reelection last week, he became the third consecutive president to win a second term. The last time that happened was at the beginning of the 19th century, when Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe benefited from Democratic-Republican dominance at the presidential level. Indeed, by the time Monroe ran for reelection in 1820, the opposition Federalist Party had collapsed.

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Why I like Ike – sometimes

By Andrew J. Polsky
We are in the midst of a great Dwight Eisenhower revival. Our 34th president, whose tenure once appeared to be little more than a sleepy interlude between the New Deal era and the tumultuous 1960s, is very much in vogue again. The past year has seen the publication of three major new biographies. On 7-8 March, Ike’s presidential legacy and its implications for our own time will be the focus of a conference at Hunter College in New York City.

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The non-interventionist moment

By Andrew J. Polsky
The signs are clear. President Barack Obama has nominated two leading skeptics of American military intervention for the most important national security cabinet posts. Meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who would prefer a substantial American residual presence after the last American combat troops have departed in 2014, Obama has signaled that he wants a more rapid transition out of an active combat role

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When “Stuff happens.”

By Andrew J. Polsky
The killing of US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other American diplomats in Benghazi, Libya on 11 September 2012 serves as a vivid reminder that unexpected events often intrude on presidential elections. Sometimes these events have a significant impact on how voters view the parties and the candidates. But often the electorate shrugs off breaking news. As former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously put it, “Stuff happens.”

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Should we want a business leader in the White House?

By Andrew Polsky
During the first two presidential debates, Mitt Romney repeatedly invoked his business experience as a key qualification for the White House. He uttered phrases such as “I know how to make this economy grow” and “I know how to grow jobs” at least a half dozen times in his second debate with President Barack Obama. The notion that a business leader would bring to the presidency a uniquely useful skill set, especially in a period of sluggish economic growth, has a certain appeal.

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Vice Presidents at War

By Andrew J. Polsky
Much of the attention to Mitt Romney’s choice of a running mate will focus on whether the selection will influence the outcome of the election in November. (The short answer is probably not, unless he suddenly decides to think outside the proverbial box.) We might do better to spend more time considering how a vice president influences policy. I find that vice presidents have sometimes played a role in policy debates, but it is never decisive.

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Reading Tea Leaves

By Andrew J. Polsky
With Mitt Romney’s trip abroad to visit Israel, Poland, and Great Britain, the focus of the 2012 presidential campaign shifts briefly to foreign policy. The Romney people hope to project the image of their candidate as a credible head of state and commander-in-chief, as well as to score some political points at home. The visit to Israel, a nation President Obama hasn’t visited during his first term, seems designed to stir doubts about the incumbent among American Jews, long one of the most reliable Democratic voting blocs. This is all pretty standard fare for presidential candidates.

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The flatterers: Sweet-talking the American people

By Andrew J. Polsky
If there is one thing on which Mitt Romney and Barack Obama agree, it is this: We, the American people, are wonderful. “We are the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the ones who wanted a better life, the driven ones.” We have always been determined to “build a better life” for ourselves and our children. (Romney)

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The great silence: Afghanistan in the presidential campaigns

By Andrew J. Polsky
From time to time, political commentators bemoan the fact that we don’t debate the war in Afghanistan in our political campaigns. Back in 2010, Tom Brokaw complained that in the heated mid-term elections neither party showed any interest in arguing about the best course to pursue in the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He chalked this up to the fact that most Americans could opt out of military service, so the wars touched few families.

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No Panacea: Why a draft wouldn’t stop a war

Andrew J. Polsky
The long conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have prompted a number of politicians and pundits to recommend a return to conscription. On several occasions Charles Rangel, the Democratic representative from New York City, has introduced bills to revive the draft. Stanley McChrystal, former military commander in Afghanistan, has urged that the country not fight another war without a draft. His call was the point of departure for noted journalist Thomas E. Ricks, who proposes a law mandating universal service for all 18-year-olds, with an option for either military or civilian public service.

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Money for nothing? The great 2012 campaign spending spree

By Andrew J. Polsky
Money is a main subtext of the 2012 elections: how much will be spent, who donates and spends it, how quickly it may be exhausted and whether campaigns have enough. Before November, we may spend as much time talking about campaign spending as the issues and the candidates.

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Osama and Obama

By Andrew J. Polsky
No Easy Day, the new book by a member of the SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden on 30 April 2011, has attracted widespread comment, most of it focused on whether bin Laden posed a threat at the time he was gunned down. Another theme in the account by Mark Owen (a pseudonym) is how the team members openly weighed the political ramifications of their actions.

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