Political Candidates Not Candid on Big Issues

TNI editor Nik Gvosdev observes a “disconnect” between the discussion among the foreign policy elite and the 2008 field:

Last night, former Secretary of State James Baker spoke at a small gathering at Citronelle at a National Interest dinner to discuss his recent essay in the magazine. To encourage a free and frank discussion between Baker and his audience, including several members of the Senate, the proceedings were off the record–and this allowed for genuine exchange.

My dinner companions and I, however, were struck how the 2008 presidential campaigns seem unable or unwilling to engage in the type of frank, pragmatic discussion we were hearing, and why Baker’s “Ten Maxims” which seem pretty common sense provoke such a strong reaction that somehow this is striking at core American values.

The irony, though, is that this frank discussion took place off the record among policy experts who, so far as I know, have nothing at stake but their reputation. If James Baker, a wealthy wise man who likely harbors no future political ambition, is unwilling to speak for attribution about things he’s already published in a prestigious international affairs journal, why should we expect relative foreign policy novices trying to build support from 50 percent plus one of the American electorate to take such risks?

FILED UNDER: 2008 Election, Blogosphere, US Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. spencer says:

    Just another success story of the republican slime machine.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Your contention is that Democrats don’t jump on any opportunity to attack positions for political advantage? Even with other Democrats?

  3. It’s a fair question. Would anything have changed if the discussion had been on the record? I am not sure, given what appeared in the essay. But sometimes the request for going off the record is made in order to prevent journalists from cherry-picking a presentation. Just look at how after an hour and half discussion on U.S. foreign policy the three second quote extracted was Alexis Debat on U.S. contingency plans for Iraq which was then all over the blogosphere. (Those interested can compare the C-SPAN transcript with what appeared in the Sunday Times).

    The point about incentives for the next generation to be open and frank in commenting is well taken, though.

  4. Stephen Boyle says:

    If he has previously stated publicly the positions he discussed, doesn’t it make sense that the ‘off the record’ status of the discussion was to encourage his audience. An audience that included senators that might be more susceptible to partisan attack.

  5. yetanotherjohn says:

    Give him his due. Obama is willing to go on the record. Of course going on the record he suggests we invade a putative ally with nuclear weapons but doesn’t seemed to be bothered with doing the spade work of introducing a AUMF for such an action.

    Now that Spencer is an example of the republican slime machine. Pointing out what the democrats said and suggesting some of the real world implications of what that means. The democrats hate it when you do that.

  6. Let me weigh in with one other observation on the whole on/off the record question. I have no problem with off the record when it is consistent with on the record positions or sentiments. What I think frustrates me and others is to have people whose on and off the record statements are going in two different directions.

    And sorry, the reference to Alexis Debat is not for the Baker dinner but a National Interest roundtable at the end of August that C-SPAN covered.

    Look, as someone involved with a foreign policy magazine I’d like to see more debate, so James’ last comment is the critical one–how to get more people to do that and not worry as much that what they say or write is going to be taken part 15 years later by a Senate committee.