Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, joined a panel on CBS’s “Face the Nation” this morning, discussing the qualifications to be vice president of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
She said, “Four of the last presidents have been governors, and they have come in, every one of them, without an in-depth foreign policy experience.” Hutchison suggested that Palin reads the newspapers and knows as much as the average governor about foreign policy, but doesn’t need significant knowledge in foreign affairs.
Hutchison challenged: “Name one governor who has become president who has had in-depth foreign policy experience.”
It pains me when public officials demonstrate such a vast lack of knowledge about American history. Because you’re from Texas, Sen. Hutchison, let me give you the facts, so you can avoid gaffes in the future.
1. Thomas Jefferson, former governor of Virginia, assumed the presidency after having served as the American Ambassador to France, after extensive travels through Europe specifically to study government and foreign affairs, and after having served as both Secretary of State to George Washington, and vice president to John Adams. If we ignore Jefferson’s service after his governorship, we would note that he read fluently in both Greek and Latin before he was 20, and had read extensively of the histories of Rome, Greece, France, Britain and the rest of Europe. By the time he assumed the presidency he had added fluent French, passing Italian, and Hebrew to his catalog of languages.
Jefferson was a Democratic-Republican (the first of that party), the party that is today known as the Democratic Party. Perhaps Sen. Hutchison is party blind.
2. Theodore Roosevelt — you remember him, the guy with the glasses on Mt. Rushmore? — came to the vice presidency in 1901 from being governor of New York. Prior to that he had been Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Navy, a post from which he wrote the book on naval power in the new age, for foreign affairs. When the Spanish American War broke out, Roosevelt thought his desk job as head of the Navy too tame, so he created an elite corps of cavalrymen, recruiting almost equally from his old cowboy friends in the Dakotas and his Harvard friends, and insisted on service in the front lines. His 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, the “Rough Riders” were deployed to Cuba. Coming under fire, they stormed San Juan Hill and pushed better-trained, veteran Spanish troops off, thereby winning the battle (Roosevelt was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for this action, though many years after his death). Among the more interesting facts: Their horses had not made it to Cuba; Roosevelt led the charge on foot. He always was impatient.
Roosevelt’s experience came in handy. He was the guy who pushed the Japanese and Russians to a peace treaty, ending the Russo-Japanese War, in 1906. Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Prize in Peace for this work (he’s the only person ever to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor and been president, and the only Congressional Medal of Honor winner to win a Nobel Prize, and vice versa. If we’re making a case that one doesn’t need foreign affairs experience to be vice president, for fairness, we should consider that vice president’s with foreign affairs experience provide great advantages to the nation, and have advanced the cause of peace, and readiness.
New York City, the major city in New York, was in 1900 one of the world’s greatest cities, a major trading center, and one of America’s largest ports (Roosevelt had been police commissioner there, earlier). The population of the city alone was 3,437,202. The population of the entire state was 7,268,894. Alaska’s population today is about 670,000
3. Franklin D. Roosevelt arrived at the White House after four years as governor of New York. Like his cousin before him, Roosevelt had served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, during a period of frequent intervention in Central America and Caribbean nations. It is reputed that FDR wrote the constitution imposed on Haiti in 1915. In his Navy post, Roosevelt visited England and France, and made the acquaintance of Winston Churchill. Roosevelt played a key role in the establishment of the Navy Reserve, and fought to keep the Navy from decommissioning after the end of World War I. FDR came from a privileged family. They made frequent trips to Europe, and by the time he was 18 FDR was conversant in both French and German. A philatelist, his knowledge of the world’s business and trade was rather legendary.
4. Jimmy Carter graduated high in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy, where the required curriculum includes extensive instruction in foreign affairs. He was chosen by Adm. Hyman Rickover for the elite nuclear submarine corps. As Georgia’s governor, Carter was elected to the Council on Foreign Relations, a non-governmental group whose intention is to create knowledge about foreign relations in the U.S. in order to aid in defense and trade, and the Trilateral Commission, a group founded on the idea that trade between the U.S., Japan and Europe can be a basis for improving international relations and trade.
5. Bill Clinton graduated from Georgetown University with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service (BSFS), from the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. Phi Beta Kappa, he won a Rhodes Scholarship, designed to pick from the next generation of great leaders, and got a degree in government in his studies at University College, Oxford. He also traveled Europe during that time.
Hutchison’s point may apply to two Republican governors who won the White House, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. They brought other gifts, but their lack of foreign policy experience nearly led to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union in Reagan’s first term, and Bush’s lack of foreign policy knowledge probably led to the unfortunate invasion of Iraq, which has led our nation too close to the brink of national calamity.
And for good measure, let’s list this guy at #6: Bill Richardson, the current governor of New Mexico, has a sound reputation in international relations, as a former Secretary of Energy, and former U.S. Ambassodor to the United Nations. Among other things, Richardson talked the North Koreans into shutting down their nuclear bomb plans and operations in 1994. When the Bush administration squirreled that deal, it was Bill Richardson again who stepped in (at the request of the North Koreans — they trust him), and got them to agree to back off the most recent bomb plans and development. “Richardson has been recognized for negotiating the release of hostages, American servicemen, and political prisoners in North Korea, Iraq, and Cuba.” In 14 years as a congressman representing New Mexico, Richardson “visited Nicaragua, Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, India, North Korea, Bangladesh, Nigeria, and Sudan to represent U.S. interests.” He previously staffed the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Senate, and worked for Henry Kissinger’s State Department in the Nixon Administration.
Contrary to Hutchison’s claim, of the four “recent” governors to gain the White House, two (both Democrats) had foreign relations education or experience far beyond that of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, and at least three other governors brought extensive foreign relations experience with them; one other has foreign relations experience a Secretary of State might envy.
Those are the facts.
Sen. Hutchison: Can you earmark about $200,000 for education in foreign affairs for Dallas high schools? Perhaps you can see, now, that experience and education in foreign affairs is useful for high office. My students will be seeking those offices sooner than we may expect.
I wouldn’t want them wandering the world thinking lack of knowledge about foreign affairs is a good thing.
Update: Calvin Coolidge was governor of Massachusetts before being elected to the vice presidency on a ticket with Warren G. Harding. Coolidge’s foreign relations experience could be said to be lacking. However, Coolidge’s experience as a mayor and governor differed greatly from Palin’s:
[From Wikipedia’s entry on Coolidge] Instead of vying for another term in the state house, Coolidge returned home to his growing family and ran for mayor of Northampton when the incumbent Democrat retired. He was well-liked in the town, and defeated his challenger by a vote of 1,597 to 1,409. During his first term (1910 to 1911), he increased teachers’ salaries and retired some of the city’s debt while still managing to effect a slight tax decrease. He was renominated in 1911, and defeated the same opponent by a slightly larger margin.
Coolidge was unopposed for the Republican nomination for Governor of Massachusetts in 1918. He and his running mate, Channing Cox, a Boston lawyer and Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, ran on the previous administration’s record: fiscal conservatism, a vague opposition to Prohibition, support for women’s suffrage, and support for American involvement in the First World War. The issue of the war proved divisive, especially among Irish– and German-Americans. Coolidge was elected by a margin of 16,773 votes over his opponent, Richard H. Long, in the smallest margin of victory of any of his state-wide campaigns.
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By the time Coolidge was inaugurated on January 1, 1919 the First World War had ended, and Coolidge pushed the legislature to give a $100 bonus to Massachusetts veterans. He also signed a bill reducing the work week for women and children from fifty-four hours to forty-eight, saying “we must humanize the industry, or the system will break down.” He signed into law a budget that kept the tax rates the same, while trimming four million dollars from expenditures, thus allowing the state to retire some of its debt.
Update: Lisa has a series of interesting posts on presidents and their executive experience, at As If You Care.
“I-have-gall” (not “I got Gaul”) update: Some clown actually compared Palin to Roosevelt in a letter to the Wall Street Journal, according to Snopes.com. Snopes’s response was much kinder, and less flattering to Roosevelt, than I would have been. WSJ left off the San Juan Hill episode, the Medal of Honor, and the Nobel Peace Prize (though he won that for his actions as president).
Spread the word; friends don't allow friends to repeat history.