Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 550
New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson today gave an address to the U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy in Des Moines on "A New Realism in American Foreign Policy." Richardson's campaign had billed this as a "major speech," so my expectations were quite high.
And so I trotted up to the Des Moines club at lunchtime, found myself a rare ringsisde seat near the rostrum, and had a nice chicken piccata while chatting with a really nice group of tablemates, including a state senator, two board members of the Center for Citizen Diplomacy, and an American expat to the UK in the process of returning to this country. And then came the introductions, followed by Bill Richardson taking center stage; I fired up the camera, took out my notebook, and got ready to scribe.
But that is where the usual blogging script ended today. After a few minutes, I capped my pen, stashed my notebook in my briefcase, and took the conscious decision to avail myself of the opportunity to view a campaign event through the eyes of a voter, a step removed from the virtual echo chamber of the political blogosphere. Here's what I saw.
A tired, possibly ill candidate read a prepared text from a teleprompter with a wheezy, wooden delivery, conveying the impression that his remarks had been scripted for him by someone else on a subject he really didn't understand or care much about. A "major speech" who's salient points, while substantive, detailed and well-reasoned, have been on the candidate's website for some time now. A rambling, distracted Q&A after the speech, including an awkward moment when the candidate confessed he had forgotten a question in the midst of attempting to answer it.
This is symptomatic of another sort of new realism in this campaign: the killing pace of the 2008 race a full six months before the Iowa caucus.Bill Richardson is a world-class authority on diplomacy and foreign affairs, and in reality is by no means the wondering, sometimes vacant person who delivered today's speech. Rather, Bill Richardson has been on the road for ten straight days now, and the realities of life on the second tier of the Democratic field are clearly taking their toll.
Bill Richardson isn't the only candidate to suffer these slings and arrows. Just last Friday, I listened to Joe Biden explain how flying commercial from D.C. to Iowa adds something like 13 travel hours to every round trip and lessens his campaign productivity by 30% compared to other candidates fortunate enough (i.e, well-funded enough) to make the trip on privately chartered aircraft. But the effect on Richardson as evinced at today's event must be particularly worrisome to himself and his staff, given that he has been saying that the way he plans to win not just the Iowa caucuses but the Democratic nomination is by outworking the rest of the field.
But the really bad part of all this is that this event showed those in attendance the worst public side of Bill Richardson: the Bill Richardson of Meet the Press and the first two debates, the rambling, ill-prepared, less than impressive Bill Richardson. This in contrast to Richardson's best side, which usually comes out at events like today's: engaged, authoritative, funny, and winning.
That said, the actual substance of Richardson's speech was nothing but solid, and deserves not to be overshadowed by its poor delivery today. In aid whereof, here are the main talking points:
"A New Realism in Foreign Policy
"This administration’s lack of realism has led us to a dangerous place. We need to take a different path. A path based on reality, not unilateralist illusions. A path that understands that the gravest dangers that threaten us today do not threaten only us – and that therefore to pursue our national interest and meet these challenges we must work with our friends, our enemies, and everyone in between. This is a path not of hard words, but of hard work. A path of moral strength, not pious judgments. A path of strong diplomacy, backed up by a strong military and strong alliances. This is the path of American leadership.
"First and Foremost, We Must Repair Our Alliances
"This means restoring respect and appreciation for our allies, and for the democratic values which unite us.
"Renew Our Commitment to International Law and Multilateral Cooperation
"This means expanding the Security Council to reflect international realities, and it means ethical reform at the UN, so that this vital institution can meet the challenges of the 21st century. It means more third world debt relief, and a World Bank focused on poverty-reduction. It means shifting aid from loans to grants for the poorest countries. It means reviving the Doha round of trade talks and seeking agreements which seriously address wage disparities, worker rights, and the environment. It means more resources for the IMF, so that it can protect the international economy from financial panics and shocks. And it means respecting the Geneva Conventions and joining the International Criminal Court.
"Lead Global Efforts to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
"We must join the Kyoto protocol on global warming, and then go well beyond it. We must lead the world with a man-on-the-moon effort to improve efficiency and to commercialize clean, alternative technologies. We must cut our fossil fuel consumption dramatically and rapidly, and get others, including China and India, to follow us to a sustainable energy future.
"Use Tough, Patient Diplomacy
"We need to stop treating diplomatic engagement with others like a reward for good behavior. The Bush administration’s refusal to engage obnoxious regimes has only encouraged and strengthened these nations' paranoid and hard-line tendencies. The futility of this policy is most tragically obvious in regard to Iran and North Korea, who responded to Washington’s snubs and threats with intensification of their nuclear programs.
"Focus on the Real Security Threats, From Which Iraq Has So Dangerously Diverted Our Attention
"We must do the hard work to build strong coalitions to fight terrorists and to stop nuclear proliferation. Most urgently, we need to lock down ALL of the world’s fissionable material. Quickly. Before terrorists get their hands on a nuclear bomb. To accomplish this, we must increase funding for the Nunn-Lugar program to secure former Soviet nuclear weapons. And we must work aggressively with our Pakistani allies to make sure that, no matter what happens in the future, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal cannot fall into the hands of Jihadists.
"Pay attention to the Americas
"To our own back yard. Illegal trafficking of drugs and persons across the Mexican border threaten our national security. We need both better border security and comprehensive immigration reform – reform that provides for a guest worker program with a realistic and earned path to legalization. And we must abandon this notion of building a fence along the border. No fence ever built has stopped history and this one wouldn’t either. It just won’t work. Let’s use that money for real border enforcement -- and I have proposed doubling the number of border guards to do just that.
"Lead the global fight against poverty – which is the basis of so much violence.
We must promote equitable trade agreements, to create more jobs in all countries. And through our example and our diplomacy we must encourage all rich countries honor their UN Millennium goal commitments. A Commission on Implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, composed of world leaders and prominent experts, should be created to recommend ways of meeting Millennium commitments."
In many ways, these proposals can be said to embody the sum total of Bill Richardson's impressive foreign policy experience, and they merit serious debate among the candidates and serious consideration from voters. But whether these proposals get the hearing they deserve will largely depend on the effectiveness of Bill Richardson as his own best messenger. I've written before on this site that if resumes were everything in American politics, Bill Richardson would have it made. But there's quite a bit more to being elected President of the United States than simply pointing to one's resumes, and, as today shows, Bill Richardson still faces considerable hurdles in getting out of his own way in this regard.