ContaCt InformatIon

ROUNDTABLE The Journal of Political Discourse


Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service Lincoln Filene Hall Tufts University Medford, Massachusetts 02155

7 8 13 Building a Bigger Base Abandon the Bush Legacy Reclaiming the Moral Majority Evan Chiacchiaro Matt Rosenfield Charles Skold

4 5 A Legislative Dictatorship The Details of Deval Tim Lesinski John Peter Kaytrosh

6 15 16 17 18 ’Roid Rage Geithner’s Plan A Demand for Different Language Dodd’s Year of Deception The Real Organic Movement Rachel Knecht Daniel Rosenblum Zoe Barth-Werb Jan McCreary Peter Radosevich

19 Détente with Iran? Faris Islam

April 2009


Here, we look at the proposed Obama federal budget via appropriated discretionary programs by agency. This budget represents a shift in prorities by the administration in used limited government resources. The budget has been met with criticism, and we thought it relevant to look at what the expenditures are. The bars represent the relative percentage changes over the previous fiscal year budget.


Tufts Roundtable

from the editor
The GOP has some serious soul-searching to do. The Democrats in the second half of the 20th century was the party of coalitions and factions. By the 1980s it was unable to maintain its workingclass base while supporting extensive social programs, leading to defections in the form of Reagan Democrats. But George W. Bush brought them the solution. “W.” became a rallying cry around which fiscal moderates, blue-collar workers, and the out-of-Iraq crowd could harmonize. The GOP now has the problem. The first question Republicans have to ask is, what do they believe. Is cutting taxes more important than teaching evolution in schools? Is spreading democracy abroad more important than enhancing trade with our allies? Republican leaders will have to prioritize when independents and the loyal base conflict on some of these issues. Next the Republicans need to think about who will be their flag-bearer. Is Rush Limbaugh, with his expansive listenership, the voice of the party? Does Michael Steele reflect mainstream Republican thought? Was Sarah Palin prepped for 2012 as John McCain’s running mate? Is Mitt Romney, who is known for his business experience, best for restoring fiscal restraint? Until the GOP finds itself, its next leader will end up on a list with Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis as the Democrats add to their congressional majorities. In this issue of the Roundtable, writers attempt to answer some of these questions. We understand that there are many opinions about the future of the Republican Party. We hope some of these opinions initiate the debate.

tufts roundtable
Editor-in-Chief Executive Content Editors Editing Staff Samuel Wallis Evan Chiacchiaro Austin Field Asad Badruddin Jan McCreary Chris Walczyszyn

Executive Production Charlotte Harrison Director Executive Layout Editor Senior Design Staff Executive Copy Editor Copy Editing Staff Business Manager Advertising Manager Web Manager Contributors Leanne Brotsky Rebecca Goldberg John Peter Kaytrosh Daniel Rosenblum Brian Kato Lydia Hochheimer Rachel Knecht Shabazz Stuart Daniel Rosenblum Richard Mondello Zoe Barth-Werb Faris Islam Tim Lesinski Peter Radosevich Matt Rosenfield Charles Skold

Samuel Wallis

Founders Shabazz Stuart Samuel Wallis Chas Morrison
IOPC Student Board Members Megan Dalton, Dean Ladin, Jarrod Niebloom, Matthew Shapanka, and Shabazz Stuart

—Brian Kato

April 2009


A Legislative Dictatorship
Tim Lesinski
Massachusetts has long been a pioneer of political ideas and has served as a testing lab for many new policies. However, our state has also been a leader in government corruption. After all, gerrymandering was named after Massachusetts’ first governor Elbridge Gerry because of his unusual redistricting practices. And within Massachusetts’ history of corrupt politics, the office of Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives is, quite possibly, the position with the worst track record. Our state’s past three speakers have had to resign under scandal, and, in total, five have resigned because of ethical issues. Speaker Finneran, who served from 1996-2004, used redistricting to punish his critics, and committed obstruction of justice in the investigation of the redistricting. Despite the fact that he pled guilty, he escaped jail time, and was merely barred from political office for five years, given a $25,000 fine, and put on 18 months of unsupervised probation. Later, his pension was revoked by the state Supreme Judicial Court. Interestingly, after leaving the legislature, Finneran secured a position in a non-profit that also has a bad track record: as the president of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council. Here, he received a salary of $416,000 a year (privately paid), in addition to his state pension for most of his time as president. He later resigned in the face of criminal charges of obstruction of justice in the investigation of his redistricting practices. Recently, Salvatore DiMasi, Speaker of the House until February, had to step down after investigators found that lobbyists did favors for his personal accountant and helped pay some of his family members’ legal debts. Ironically, this is entirely legal, since Massachusetts ethics laws, supposedly the strictest in the nation, only limit lobbyists from giving money directly to politicians. Understandably, this controversy caused a public stir; many critics called for him to resign, and newspapers were eager to publish every detail of the building case against him. While it is easy to criticize the Speaker’s behavior, he is not alone. Among Massachusetts politicians, cronyism and quid-proquo agreements are rampant. Although it seemed clear Speaker DiMasi was corrupt, Democratic representatives waited to criticize him. He easily won reelection as Speaker in January, even though his accountant had already been indicted for violating lobbying and campaign finance regulations. Eventually Sal DiMasi resigned, but still claims that he has done nothing wrong. The reason no one opposed him is simple; the Speaker has power over committee appointments and when committees can debate. If representatives do not support the Speaker, they will find it very hard to advance their agenda. Caucuses, groups of representatives that vote in the same way on certain issues, are viewed as a threat to the Speaker’s power, and are rarely formed, since representatives fear that their participation will hurt their possibility at getting committee assignments and other benefits. Through these avenues, the Speaker controls the majority party and the legislature. With the electoral dominance of Democrats in Massachusetts, control over the party generally gives the Speaker enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto, often rendering the governor’s veto power completely worthless. This greatly reduces the power of the governor over state affairs. Ultimately, the power of the Speaker needs to be reduced. In order to fight corruption, I would suggest that we give some of the powers assigned to the Speaker, such as committee assignments or granting leadership roles, to the general legislature, or at least a small group of legislators. Additionally, since the power he has leads towards corruption, as evinced by the previous examples, there should be limits on how long a Speaker can serve. This would reduce corruption, and bring the office closer to a “first among equals” status. It remains to be seen if our current Speaker, and legislature, will be able and willing to implement such difficult and necessary reforms.


Tufts Roundtable


The Details of Deval
John Peter Kaytrosh
Much has been made in recent weeks of the Tufts administration’s choice to invite Governor Deval Patrick (D-MA) to be the commencement speaker for the Class of 2009. To illustrate with one unscientific example, a Tufts Daily online poll shows that exactly half are opposed to the choice, and, even less inspiringly, only twenty-six percent of respondents support the choice. My own questioning of students leads me to believe that these numbers do present a fairly accurate snapshot of the zeitgeist on the Hill. While there are certainly legitimate concerns about Governor Patrick’s achievements in his first year in office, he is coping better with the economic downturn than most governors in the country, while also trying to accomplish more than them. Furthermore, a governor in good standing of the Commonwealth, which gives us so much, should certainly be accorded the same respect as an acclaimed journalist or inspiring athlete, and choosing who has the honor of being our university’s commencement speaker should be more than just a popularity contest. From above, Governor Patrick is dealing with a national financial crisis. At the local level, his challenges cannot be described in terms this simple; they include a corrupt legislature, the need to fund a healthcare mandate devised by his predecessor which is enduring unforeseen financial crises, and crumbling state infrastructure such as the transportation system, which is in danger of going broke if it is not reformed. Amazingly, Governor Patrick is not only seeking resolutions on these issues which will allow for the continuation of state services, but is also dealing with the fundamental issues which caused these problems in the first place. Moreover, in the face of all these problems, in the first year of his term he stood his ground on the issue of same-sex marriage, working tirelessly against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it. Many of our governor’s detractors point to the fact that his approval rating is low. However, this is largely a result of Governor Patrick’s willingness to take action that he deems necessary, regardless of public opinion. I doubt that even “Teflon President” Ronald Reagan could have proposed a nineteen-cent increase in the taxation on every gallon of gasoline sold and not seen his approval ratings plummet. Opinion polls are merely snapshots of anger or content with an individual on a given day. Certainly, the public’s views should be something the governor considers, but surely it is history’s opinion poll that matters most. Furthermore, the governor’s approval ratings or unpopular opinions do not preclude his qualification to deliver the commencement address. The University of Notre Dame, a conservative Catholic institution, recently invited President Obama to be its commencement speaker. The University has been vilified by much of the Christian Right for inviting Obama because he is pro-choice, but Notre Dame has stood its ground. When President Obama visits South Bend to speak, it is extremely doubtful that he will extol the virtues of abortion rights. Likewise, when Governor Patrick visits us at Tufts, it is improbable that he will take much time to stump about a gas tax increase. Others who oppose Governor Patrick’s visit complain that he is not enough of a national figure. However, might he just be a little too close for comfort? Much as Jumbos, generally speaking, are more aware of poverty in Malawi than in Medford and more interested in the politics of Syria than Somerville, so too might they be unimpressed with Patrick because he comes from Beacon Hill and not Beijing; in other words, he might not be glamorous enough. However, starry-eyed Tufts students, who want to be anywhere but Massachusetts or who harbor worthy dreams of wanting to become national figures themselves, should consider the fact that Tufts is an institution intimately tied to the Bay State. We are not an island; we owe much to the Commonwealth in which we live. We are offered the resources of an unparalleled intellectual community and the opportunity to spend time in a great national city; there is, after all, a reason why so many of us choose to stay local after graduation. And, whether we realize it or not, we come in contact with Bay Staters every day. In short, the choice of Governor Patrick as commencement speaker shows a great deal of pragmatic acceptance of the realities of life and governance in what is, for at least four years, a Jumbo’s home. Accepting our governor shows the depth of our education; it shows that we understand what it takes to lead, and that we know that decisions which are right are not always popular. Certainly, reasonable criticism can be made of our governor. But he is our governor, and, given his ethically clean record of service to the Commonwealth and his inspiring story of personal achievement, he should at least be accorded a modicum of respect. To those who disapprove of the choice of Governor Patrick, I can only offer one last bit of consolation: commencement exercises are usually boring anyhow. Rather than be overly concerned with who is speaking, make the day a celebration of yourself, and allow your governor, your teachers, and your friends to celebrate you as well.

April 2009


’Roid Rage
Rachel Knecht
When the New York Yankees’ star player Alex Rodriguez admitted that he had used performance-enhancing drugs, known to the public as “steroids,” the media worked itself into hysterics over his supposed perversion of the American pastime. They were, however, behind the United States Congress, who last year dedicated eight days to interrogating players they deemed to be cheaters bent on poisoning young minds. All they had at the end of the hearings, though, was a lot of footage of Roger Clemens chewing on his lower lip and a sense of moral superiority. Baseball hasn’t been ruined any more than the Olympics have. At last summer’s Games, records were broken in seemingly every race. It wasn’t due to drugs, as far as we know, but nor was it because of that crop of athletes’ so-called natural ability. Michael Phelps is probably not the greatest “natural” swimmer of all time, no matter how many records he shattered. He owes his incredible times, at least in part, to a deeper pool that creates less wave resistance, not to mention a myriad of other technological advancements in training and competing. But no one has claimed, as they have with Rodriguez, that Phelps’ numbers are “in question.” Athletes use what technology is available to them to help them train, to help them run faster and lift more and throw harder and hit baseballs further. And in competition technology helps them break records. So the question remains: are performance-enhancing drugs, which baseball players use to help them work out more and thus bulk up faster, cheating? Right now, the argument is not so much about health and safety as it is about our conceptions of “fairness,” and rather than honestly discuss health risks, we resort to fist-pounding moral outrage. The current debate is about the American tenet that “all men are created equal,” and in this case, all people are born with the same natural abilities. Performance enhancing drugs create advantages that are not “natural.” But nature itself is in no way fair. The basis of evolutionary biology, natural selection, rests on that very idea. So where did this obsession with fairness come from? The answer has less to do with baseball than it does with America. We hold dear the idea that all people have the same natural abilities, the idea that anyone can hit 500 home runs if he works hard enough. The fact is that he can’t. All the drugs in the world will not change such a simple fact of nature. But if steroids, like any other technology, help Rodriguez train harder, if he uses them prudently and he is honest about his usage, he is not cheating any more than Olympic swimmers are in their high-tech pools. There are counterarguments, and it is true that drug testing has begun to purge certain steroids from baseball. But tests are only reactions. They will not be able to keep up with science’s limitless creativity, and eventually doping will be immune to detection. Already tests struggle to find HGH, the human growth hormone. So-called “gene doping,” generally defined as using any transfer or insertion of genetic material to improve athletic performance, is completely invisible, and therefore it is likely inevitable. The fear of a game in which players feel forced to use some form of doping is real but, sadly, it appears unavoidable. Far better to put the drugs out in the open where they can be researched and regulated. Moreover, if players can be educated about the dangers of overuse and addiction, the risks are lowered further. For a culture that pushes drugs for enhancing every other type of performance, from studying to sex, the steroid debate is depressingly moralistic. So let us debate it out in the open, on the basis of health and safety, and not harangue Clemens or Rodriguez on moral grounds. Steroids do not make cheaters any more than any other technology does. Yes, drugs may become commonplace. But the longer they are hushed up in a sport where they are already widespread, unsafe, and stigmatized, the longer we buy into salacious media scandals and forget about the game itself. By doing that, we pervert the national pastime on our own.


Tufts Roundtable

Building a Bigger Base
Evan Chiacchiaro
The Republican Party has an image problem. The party that was once given the moniker the Grand Old Party, emphasis on Grand, is increasingly becoming seen as the Grand Old Party, emphasis on Old. It is viewed as the party of big corporations, rather than the champion of small business and the middle class. To some, it is the party of the rich, not of the average American worker; to others, it is the party of the rural South, of NASCAR and Christian fundamentalists and intelligent design, far removed from the intellectualism espoused and celebrated in the Northeast and on college campuses. And neither the appointment of African-American Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican Party nor the choice of Indian-American Bobby Jindal to deliver the party’s rebuttal to Obama’s State of the Nation address moved the Republican Party any closer to shaking its diversity problem. Its image remains that of the party of white men, a far cry from the multicultural reality of American today. And as a result, the party’s voters have been overwhelmingly those that resemble this image; either white males from the South or members of the upper class. The current GOP’s response to the problems it faces has been, unsurprisingly, wholly uninspired. Rather than adopting new strategies and looking to expand its supporters, party strategists have largely turned inwards. Party officials spoke in 2008 of the need to “fire up the base,” crafting campaign narratives and platforms aimed at increasing turnout among those who would never cast a ballot for a Democratic nominee, but needed added inspiration to go to the polls on Election Day. In effect, the Republicans decided that they stood no chance at victory through winning over new voters, and instead focused on igniting its core to support the nominee. Never was this more evident than in the choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be the vice presidential nominee. Since the beginning of the campaign, hard-right conservatives had been less than thrilled with presidential nominee Senator John McCain; his stances on social issues were viewed as too moderate, and religious conservatives did not trust him on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. The pick of Palin was meant to solidify their support. A religious conservative through and through, Palin is firmly pro-life, supports a constitutional ban on gay marriage, and had called for creationism to be taught as an alternative theory alongside evolution in public schools in Alaska. She was exactly what Republican strategists were declaring was needed to rally the right and defeat Barack Obama. Palin certainly succeeded in drawing support from the conservative base of the Republican party, often drawing larger crowds at speaking engagements than Senator McCain. She roundly failed, however, at helping McCain win the election. Palin managed to alienate more voters than she attracted, narrowing McCain’s possible voter pool by a great deal. Despite her insistence that her appointment had created a team of ‘mavericks’ that would take on Washington, a claim designed largely to appeal to moderates and undecided voters, independents turned sharply hoarse about abortion and the death of traditional marriage and secure an election victory. The Republicans’ reliance on religious conservatives, a relationship truly cemented in the 1980s, is no longer sustainable. A poll by the Pew Forum in 2008 recorded that more than half of Americans under the age of 30 support legalized abortion in the United States, and a poll by the same group in 2006 showed that only a quarter of Americans under 30 are strongly opposed to gay marriage, and 72 percent support allowing gays to serve openly in the United States military. Instead of harping on social issues, the Republican Party needs to accept a moderate stance on these matters, and turn to the elements of conservatism that have a greater appeal to more Americans. The recent populist outrage over President Obama’s bank bailouts, stimulus package, and vastly inflated budget have given Republicans the opportunity they need to abandon social conservatism in favor of fiscal and governmental conservatism. Traditional conservative values of decreased government spending and balanced budgets, which were largely abandoned during the Bush administration, have the chance to resonate with voters across America in a way that the religious right’s values never could. Replacing religious arguments against abortion with well-constructed arguments for a smaller budget gives the party a chance to appeal to both Northeast intellectuals and Southern Evangelicals. Advocating lower taxes for all Americans can attract the votes of a lower-class family in Detroit just as easily as an upper-class family in Georgia or Virginia. And as the Republican Party moves away from its polarizing stances of the past and increases its base of supporters, it will begin to attract voters of all races and all religions, and become a party as diverse as the nation it is trying to represent. This is the future Republican Party. It is a party that embraces social politics of inclusion rather than alienation. It is a party that looks outward across traditional boundaries and draws support for its policies from farmers and investment bankers, Christians and Jews, whites and blacks and Hispanics and Asians. It is a party that creates leaders that “fire up” more than just a small base of voters. And it is a party that, if all goes well, can unite Americans and win back Congress and the White House.

away from the McCain-Palin ticket. A New York Times poll showed that in the seven weeks after McCain announced Palin’s nomination, the number of independent voters that expressed an unfavorable view of the senator rose from 24 percent to 44 percent; a staggering loss for the man whose successes among moderates and in traditionally independent-heavy states such as New Hampshire had helped him greatly on the national stage. While much of the distaste for Palin resulted from perceptions of her as incompetent and unqualified to serve, her stances on social issues turned off many potential voters as well. The McCain-Palin ticket failed to expand the Republican Party’s voting base, and as a result they were soundly defeated on November 4, 2008. For the Republican Party to succeed in 2010, 2012, and beyond, it needs to abandon its insistence on kowtowing to the far-right and look to broaden its appeal among Americans. Gone are the days when a candidate could shout himself

April 2009


Abandon the Bush Legacy
Matt Rosenfield
The Grand Old Party never stood a chance in 2008. George Bush barely squeaked into the White House for the second time four years prior. One knew that a Democrat would be the next President of the United States. Bush’s approval rating consistently hovered around 30 percent; there was no miracle he could perform to redeem himself. The feeling was surely explicit on college campuses, but it existed prominently elsewhere in the world as well. One was hard-pressed to find a person who did not despise the American Republicans. In the eyes of everyone who could speak freely without fear of disdain from peers, the party for which Bush stood represented everything that is wrong with humanity, with culture, and with America. Bush may have been the party figurehead who constantly fumbled his words, but it was the political party that was evil at heart. It would have made no difference in the past election if Joe Blow had run for the Democrats and God Himself had run for the Republicans: the liberals were taking back the White House, and they currently show no sign of returning it for many years. In order to return to the graces of the majority of the country, the party should undergo much transformation that will make them seem a whole new party to many. Many of the dogmas that people recognize as “Republican” or “conservative” are superficial, like being religious or hawkish. The most important tenet that underlies almost all beliefs considered conservative is the notion that people can be genuinely malevolent at their cores for whatever reason. This idea is one to which many people are surely able to subscribe; genuine Democrats will not be converted, but the people who flipped allegiance due to taking the lesser of two evils or were won over by the Obamamania can revert in time. In reshaping the Republican Party, one needs to retain the assertion that people are bad by nature, otherwise one is fundamentally constructing a new party. If Republicans are ever again to become popular in the near future, they will need to inherit some of the party’s ideals from the 1970’s and ‘80’s, prior to the “new neo-conservatism” of George W. Bush, before they acquired the ugly reputation it has today. Some ideals, though, will need to come from even further back in history. Although it had not formerly been viable, as throughout the Cold War, it is now appropriate for America to revert to isolationism with regards to the military. The is becoming increasingly atheistic, and so Republicans should follow suit. It is not necessary that the party’s next presidential candidate is an atheist, but the candidate should not be a Bush or a Palin or a Jindal. There does not exist a Republican position that cannot be defended without religious reasons. And as long as the views do not change, the votes of the religious right should not be lost in the transition to candidates with non-theistic reasoning for their beliefs. The Northeast is often thought to be a lost cause. However, the top-right corner of the electoral map has only been consistently blue since Bill Clinton ran. It seems, then, that those states do have the ability to be Republican again. Statistically, the Northeast is the wealthiest region of the nation. Conservatives need to continue to appeal to this part of the country with tax cuts, but they can push harder by appealing to the related Northeast intellectual. There lives a strong intellectual in Barack Obama, the former professor of law; the next Republican candidate should have a similar qualification. In fighting for the Northeast, the party could lose its dominance in the much more populous southern states. The GOP can reasonably suppose, though, that they have a strong enough handle on the South not to take too much damage in targeting a forgotten area of the country. Republicans need to bury the Bush era and never even hint at a return to it. While he was not the devil that many people made him out to be, the truth matters little in politics. The important thing, keeping up appearances, for the GOP means distancing itself from Bush as much as possible and starting fresh. “McSame” was not the right nominee, regardless of the name being warranted or not. Rudy Giuliani fit the bill, but no frontrunner has emerged since the last election who seems like a viable candidate for the next.

country should obviously continue with its economic business, but most of our armies can be removed from the various areas they occupy. An argument can be made that an army should remain in Afghanistan until al Qaeda heads are found, but it is not critical. It would be a horrific oversight to simply remove all forces from warring hotspots, which is why the United Nations should take the reins. It can still be the American soldiers who are shipped, as is the obligation of the strongest military in the world, but de jure they should be under UN control. Such a move to globalism could repair the damage in relations between America and European countries caused by circumventing the United Nations’ majority opinion in international issues. The Republican Party needs to ditch its religious ties. Studies do show that America


Tufts Roundtable

State Budget Gaps
In the midst of the economic crisis, governments at the state, local, and national levels are faced with decreasing tax revenue. As some states have considerably larger budgets than others, the best indication of their fiscal health is not comparing budget deficits in dollar amounts, but in how large their budget deficit is in relation to their general fund, the money available to the state that comes from state tax revenue. Based on that metric, the four states in the worst financial shape, according to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, are:

1. Arizona
With a budget shortfall equivalent to 15.7 percent of its general fund, Arizona faces the worst fiscal outlook of any state in the nation. In January, Republican governor Jan Brewer cut $1.6 billion from an annual budget of $10 billion, and in March she proposed another $1 billion in spending cuts. In order to further prop up the state’s failing finances, Governor Brewer asked legislators to consider authorizing a $1 billion temporary tax increase. This idea has met with resistance, especially among Republican legislators.

2. California
The Golden State is no stranger to budget deficits, perhaps most notably during the 2002 recall of then-Governor Gray Davis. But the current shortfall, at 14.1 percent of the state’s general fund, could rise to $15 billion if several current revenue-generating ballot measures promoted by Republican governor Schwarzenegger are not approved by California voters. Even if these measures are approved, the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office projects an $8 billion deficit in this fiscal year.

3. South Carolina

As the state faces a budget gap representing 13.7 percent of its general fund and a projected budget gap of $966 million, Republican Governor Mark Sanford is locked in a stalemate with the state legislature over his refusal to apply for $700 million in federal stimulus money unless legislators agree to spend an equal amount on deficit reduction. Democratic legislators argue that spending is urgently needed to counteract the damage being done to state finances by the economic recession.

4. Alabama
Rounding out the top four with a budget shortfall worth 12.2 percent of its general fund, Alabama is not in an enviable position. Governor Bob Riley has rejected $66 million in federal stimulus money for unemployment benefits, saying it commits the state to unsustainable levels of spending. Alabama’s senators, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, have also been steadfast enemies of President Obama’s stimulus proposals.

April 2009


Fiscal conservatism

Rising Stars
T IM PAWLENT Y Governor of Minnesota
Tim Pawlenty served as co-chairman of John McCain’s presidential campaign. He was mentioned often as a possible vice presidential pick for McCain. His recent remarks against Obama’s tax plan are seen as an attempt to increase his national visibility in advance of an presidential campaign.

The Republican to a diverse arra pundits, and thin the Roundtable to place nine of t tial modern Rep political spectrum social and fiscal on public statem records, wher

M I C H A E L STEELE Republican National Committee Chair
Elected in January, Steele is the first African American ever to be chair of the Republican National Committee, but his early tenure was marred by a very public dispute with Rush Limbaugh after he called the radio host’s show “ugly” and “incendiary”. Steele later apologized.

MIT T ROMNE Former Governor

C H A R L IE CR IST Governor of Florida
Prior to his tenure as governor, Christ served as State Attorney General, where he became known for his tough stances on crime and his support for a landmark civil rights bill. Christ has a record of breaking from his party, most notably in his support for funding for stem cell research. He supports curbing greenhouse gas emissions and appeared at a town hall event with President Obama in support of the federal stimulus package.

Mitt Romney has a repu ing companies into pro the private equity firm Winter Olympics. As Gov expanded a statewide h rected budget problems his support for civil union doned his pro-choice st wards more conservativ left many conservatives


s of the GOP
RUSH LIM BAUGH Radio Personality
The most successful talk radio show host in the country, Limbaugh attracts roughly 14 million weekly listeners. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel recently called him the leader and voice of the Republican Party after Limbaugh declared that he wanted President Obama to fail.

n Party is home ay of politicians, nkers. Here, we at have attempted the most influenpublicans on the m according their positions, based ments and voting re applicable.

BOBBY JINDAL Governor of Louisiana
A rising national figure in the Republican Party, Bobby Jindal was chosen to deliver the rebuttal to Obama’s Address to the Nation. The son of Indian immigrants, Jindal is known for his folksy personality, fiscal acumen, and social conservatism.

SAR AH PALIN Governor of Alaska
Sarah Palin is governor of Alaska, and was Senator John McCain’s vice presidential nominee in 2008. She is often mentioned as a possible candidate for either Alaska’s Senate seat or president in 2012.

EY or of Massachusetts

utation for transforming failofitable businesses, notably Bain Capital and the 2000 vernor of Massachusetts, he healthcare program and cors. In 2004, Romney reversed ns for gay couples and abantance. Romney’s move tove positions in recent years s unsure of his credentials.

E R I C C A NTOR House Minority Whip (VA-7)
As Republican Whip, Cantor is the second most powerful House Republican. The McCain campaign briefly considered him for their vice presidential nominee due to his prominence as a leader and fundraiser among younger Republican representatives.

M IKE HUC K ABEE Former Governor of Arkansas
As Governor, Huckabee expanded healthcare to children, signed a partial-birth abortion ban, and worked towards racial reconciliation. One of his strongest campaign issues was the FairTax, which replaces federal income taxes with a national retail sales tax. Huckabee came second behind John McCain for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination. Because of his policy stances, polls showed he had strong support among the Christian conservative wing of the Republican Party.

Social conservatism

12 Tufts Roundtable

Reclaiming the Moral Majority
Charles Skold
The Republican Party is hurting right now, but you probably didn’t need me to tell you that. After a tumultuous Republican Presidency and two subsequent national election defeats, strategists and party leaders are searching for a new way forward even as regular “Joe the Plumber” types are wondering whether or not the GOP can truly represent them in Washington. As Congressional Republicans settle into their new role as the opposition party they need to plan ahead and lay the foundation for a comeback in the 2010 elections and beyond. An April 6 CBS/ NYT poll shows a low 31 percent approval rating for Republicans in Congress, most likely due in part to the vilification of Republicans as obstructionist for refusing to go along with the ObamaPelosi spending spree. The Democrat Party’s idea of bipartisanship is inviting the GOP to reject their conservative values of limited government and fiscal responsibility, and then lambasting the GOP as the “party of no” when they refuse. Despite these jabs and low poll numbers right now, this re-found tune of lower spending, lower taxes, and smaller government is allowing the GOP to reshape itself as the party of fiscal responsibility and is the ticket to Congressional pick-ups in 2010. The economy was the defining issue in the 2008 election and will likely remain at the top in 2010. The GOP already has much for which to criticize the Democratic leadership: irresponsible spending, excessive haste, massive deficit growth, earmarks, and pork projects. These and more are showing the American public that we are not witnessing the promised new era of responsibility and government accountability. House GOP leadership and especially Minority Whip and rising star Eric Cantor of Virginia are doing all they can to keep Republicans together in opposition to the Democrats’ economic recovery spending and will use this solidarity to present themselves as constructive dissenters and a viable check on Obama’s powers in 2010. However, fiscal responsibility is not necessarily the silver bullet for the 2010 or 2012 cause, but it is more probable that the defeats are due to an inadequate and confusing GOP presidential campaign that failed to capitalize effectively on abortion. Senator McCain tried to stay true to his “maverick” independent streak in order to win moderates and was thus slightly uncomfortable with the pro-life movement. He said the right things to appease a social conservative crowd, such as defining life from the “moment of conception” at Rick Warren’s forum, but didn’t make it a central campaign issue the way Bush did. When Sarah Palin came on board--the most exciting thing for the pro-life cause since the appointment of Chief Justice Roberts—she inevitably inspired a greater discussion on abortion. Because McCain had not properly laid the foundation for this issue as important to his campaign, the resulting message was confusing and reactionary rather than cohesive and deliberate. So while the 2010 GOP needs to sweep Congress with resistance to Obama’s taxes and spending, it also needs to make sure to run some high-profile abortion races through pro-life candidates and issues. Obama has not yet made good on his promise to work together with Republicans to reduce the number of abortions. On his second day in office he reversed the “Mexico City Policy” so that now federal aid may go to international groups that perform abortions or make them more accessible. According to a Gallup poll 58% of Americans opposed this decision at the time it was made. Approval ratings for other upcoming Democrat measures such as passing the Freedom of Choice Act or removing legal protections for health care providers who personally object to abortion will likely not be very high either.

elections. Obama won the General Election primarily on the economy, and it is probable that he can do it again. If the economy improves, voters will need other reasons to block him and his party. If the economy doesn’t improve—well, he could probably still find a way to blame everything on Bush and the Republicans. In order to win more seats in 2010, the GOP needs to bring together a strong platform of fiscal conservatism combined with a pro-life policy. The “hot-button” issue of abortion rights and restrictions needs to regain the prominent role in national politics it had in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Some abortion rights advocates have declared the four defeated sanctity-of-life ballot measures in 2008 to be evidence of a dying

April 2009 13

Even if the economy is the dominant issue in the 2010 midterm The next Republican Presidential nominee will therefore need elections, the Republican Party needs to criticize the Democrats to be strong on both the economy and abortion, as fiscally conon their pro-abortion agenda in order to turn out incensed vot- servative and pro-life. Sarah Palin has the abortion credentials, ers and reinstate abortion’s relevancy to the but needs to learn to speak about it from GOP platform in preparation for 2012. The “hot-button” issue of abortion a larger framework of health, women’s isRep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the rights and restrictions needs to sues, social responsibility, and individual Vice Chair of the House Republican Conliberties. However, Palin has not made the ference and Republican co-chairwoman of regain the prominent role in na- strongest case for herself as a fiscally rethe Congressional Caucus for Women’s Is- tional politics it had in the 2000 sponsible Governor, and although there is sues is a proponent of abortion restrictions much excitement about her potential candidacy it is difficult to see her winning on and may be the ideal candidate to represent and 2004 elections. the national stage so soon after a severely a renewed GOP opposition to abortion in the House. In 2007 Rodgers gave birth to her son Cole, who, like embarrassing election. Sarah Palin’s ultimate place in the GOP might be as a reelected Governor and future Senator of Alaska. Palin’s young Trig, has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. The two governors who have the best chance of running on a platform dominated by the economy and abortion are Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Both have protested the 2009 stimulus Federal funding as irresponsible government spending. Although Sanford is applying for the funds after first threatening to reject them, it is with hopes that he can use the stimulus money to ease South Carolina’s debt rather than spend more. Both are also reliably prolife and would be able to champion that cause without appearing insincere or opportunistic. Focusing on fiscal responsibility and reducing abortions will not automatically propel the Republicans back into power. There is certainly organizational and ideological restructuring that should take place in order to reach out to a wider constituency. However, these two issues will win the GOP Congressional seats in 2010, and depending on the results of that election and the candidate running, may boost the party to an upset Presidential Election victory in 2012.

14 Tufts Roundtable


Geithner’s Plan
Daniel Rosenblum
In the vile wake of AIG’s bonuses debacle, with American citiThe plan will reduce the supply of assets, driving up asset prices, zens desensitized by huge government spending, Treasury Secretary reviving liquidity, and allowing businesses to finance expansion and Timothy Geithner’s recently proposed bank recovery plan warrants thus increase employment. But not everyone agrees that the plan will a bit of skepticism. Many of the most optimistic experts are quick to work. Economist Paul Krugman, for example, wrote, “To keep the emphasize their uncertainty. Predictably, attacks have been mounted banks operating, you need to provide a real backstop–you need to from the political right, but noted self-professed liberals like Nobel guarantee their debts, and seize ownership of those banks that don’t economics laureate Paul Krugman have also voiced dissent. So in have enough assets to cover their debts.” general terms, what is behind this plan? So will it work? Expert economists disagree. But one thing is The Geithner plan will take $1 trillion over time to buy up “toxic certain: this plan is politically difficult. The Obama administration is assets” from the banks using a combination of private and public showing its resolve to meet these challenges and move forward. Those funds. What is a toxic asset? Suppose I have a poor credit rating, who are principally opposed to market intervention ought to accept and I’m looking to buy a house. A bank lends me money to buy the it as a paradigmatic reality of both the current administration and the house even though I haven’t demonstrated that I can be expected political will. The only remaining question is how that intervention to pay it back (a “subprime” mortgage). The bank holds my house will best manifest in policy. But whatever plan we use may be our as collateral: if I can’t pay back the loan, the bank gets my house. last shot at solving—or at least mitigating—the financial crisis. It is Normally banks can sell my mortgage, such that a third party (like plausible that the administration’s political capital on this issue may another bank) pays my bank, and my mortgage payments go to the be expended after a failed, multi-billion dollar attempt. Let us hope third party. That way my bank gets quick money, and the buyer can that, whichever plan we use, it works the first time. make a profit from interest on the mortgage. When the housing market falls, my house becomes less valuable than what I owe the bank. So if I can’t pay the loan, the bank loses money. At this point, the bank cannot sell the mortgage; no bank would want to buy a mortgage that I don’t have the means to pay, and for which the collateral is less valuable than the loan. The mortgage becomes “toxic,” an undervalued financial asset with no market in which to sell. There are other types of toxic assets, such as colThe Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) program aims to aid the lateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps. banks and increase available credit through two major programs, the CapiThese weigh down the balance sheets of banks, meantal Assistance Program and the Public-Private Investment Program. The ing they have less money to lend. This impacts not Capital Assistance Program allows the Treasury to buy preferred stock from only mortgages, but also other types of lending such the major banks, ensuring that they have enough capital to increase lending as student loans and business startup loans. Busito Americans. Banks that receive funds through the Capital Assistance Pronesses cannot expand and hire at the rate that they gram are required to publicly display their performance so that they can be should be. The idea behind the bailout, then, is to buy those assets that cannot otherwise be sold such monitored by the taxpaying public, and must abide by the executive comthat the banks are free to make more loans, loosening pensation rules laid out by the Obama administration. credit flow. The Public-Private Investment program, on the other hand, will use Geithner’s plan aims to accomplish this through both $75-$100 billion of TARP money and encourage private investors to a public-private investment partnership, or PPIP. The purchase existing toxic assets from the banks, termed “legacy assets” by the federal government will contribute billions in TARP White House. The inclusion of private investors is meant to ensure that the bailout funds, FDIC debt, and Treasury equity, and assets are not overvalued, and to provide another source of capital for the share the risk with private investors. Because these banks. It also means that the risks from taking on these inherently volatile assets are likely undervalued, the government and assets will not be placed exclusively on the taxpayers, but will be shared by investors stand to profit once the market stabilizes. those private individuals that choose to invest in them. The administration’s The government is hiring hedge fund and pension fund managers to control the assets on the condition hope is that by putting more money into the banks and by clearing up their that they pay a $30 billion stake. This way the private balance sheets, banks will both regain the trust of most Americans and reinvestors are handling in part their own money, disgain the ability to lend to homeowners and businesses. couraging excessive risk.

TARP Assistance to Banks

April 2009 15


A Demand for Different Language
Zoe Barth-Werb
In the last issue of the Roundtable, Evan Chiacchiaro and Jan McCreary argued that President Obama can’t afford not to reach across the aisle and cooperate with Republicans. While not a particularly lofty claim, I appreciate their effort to hold Obama accountable for his campaign promises. However, while reading the article, I couldn’t get past its title: “A Demand for Bipartisanship.” This begs the question: since when is bipartisanship an acceptable substitute term for cooperation? It’s not that I deny the reality of the two-party system; I simply find the language inappropriate. When we talk about bipartisanship, we leave out Americans unaffiliated with either party and ignore positions on issues that aren’t encompassed by their platforms. The Founding Fathers are most likely rolling over in their graves at this turn of phrase. President Washington warned against a party system in his farewell address, saying: “It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.” Today, every time we use the term “bipartisanship” when we really want to say “cooperation,” we legitimize a system contested by our forbears and suggest that the epitome of working together is compromise across the lines of the two main parties. How we discuss phenomena in our political system matters. When we talk about bipartisanship, we leave out Americans unaffiliated with either party and ignore positions on issues that aren’t encompassed by Democratic or Republican platforms. We discuss collaboration in the narrowest terms possible. Perhaps more importantly, the word “bipartisanship” reinforces the notion that the two parties have different positions on all the issues and that they need to compromise and work hard to come to an agreement. Calling cooperation “bipartisanship” gives politicians an excuse for just not getting along. It is clear that mainstream Democrats and Republicans, most of those who get elected, are moderate and not at two opposite ends of the political spectrum. The term “bipartisanship” presumes that the two parties are dramatically different, and this simply is not the case. The two parties aren’t divided by meaningful ideological positions, but rather by political power bases. During the presidential debate, there was a lot of rhetoric surrounding the divide in economic policy between Democrats and Republicans. Apparently, Democrats are more concerned with Main Street than Wall Street, while Republicans want to help out the emerging businessman, Joe the Plumber. But when it comes down to it both parties are for sale and, tellingly, both support the bailout, despite outcry from the general public. Major elements of both parties also support the War on Drugs, which has proven clearly ineffective. Even on social issues, which are generally divisive, the parties just aren’t that far apart. For example, the presidential campaigns expressed identical positions on gay marriage and civil unions. By perpetuating the myth that a huge ideological gap exists between Democrats and Republicans, the term “bipartisanship” actually contributes to the lack of cooperation. By using the term, we accept that the parties are engaged in some sort of ideological struggle and that only by finding the middle ground between the two ideals can we govern peacefully. Language matters. If we really want change in Washington and increased cooperation between all actors in the political system, we should just say it.

16 Tufts Roundtable


Dodd’s Year of Deception
Jan McCreary
It’s hard to deny that Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) is in serious political trouble. With his 2010 re-election campaign looming, Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee since 2007, currently faces the lowest approval ratings of his career and two Republicans, Connecticut State Senator Sam Caligiuri and former Ambassador Tom Foley, have already declared their intentions to replace him. A poll released by Quinnipiac University on April 2 revealed that only 33 percent of Connecticut voters are satisfied with Dodd and, in both head-to-head match-ups, he would lose by over ten percentage points to his challengers. Many Americans may cite Senator Dodd’s involvement in last month’s AIG bonus scandal as the primary reason for the 30 year incumbent’s fall from grace in an overwhelmingly blue state. However, this incident merely exacerbated voter frustration during a year marked by Dodd’s consistently questionable behavior. Senator Dodd began his downward spiral in June of last year when he was accused of receiving a sweetheart deal on the refinancing of his homes in Connecticut and Washington, D.C. through Countrywide Financial. A former Countrywide loan officer alleged that Dodd was a member a VIP program for “friends” of Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo and had received preferential rates and other benefits on his refinancing. Senator Dodd was a key proponent of encouraging Fannie May and Freddie Mac to assume subprime loans, pegged as “affordable housing,” from corporations like Countrywide. However, in Countrywide’s case, this “affordable housing” was, in truth, a predatory lending scheme that placed many Americans in homes they could not afford. Such policies caused September’s subprime mortgage crisis and plunged the United States into a recession. For these reasons, Dodd’s alleged sweetheart deal suggested he was endorsing damaging economic policies in return for personal favors. Initially, the story received little attention as the national press focused on the much anticipated 2008 election and continued to peg Dodd as a potential vice presidential pick. But, during a time of economic uncertainty, Dodd’s inconsistent response to the accusation quickly plunged him into disfavor with Connecticut voters. Senator Dodd originally said he had no idea that he was a VIP Countrywide customer, but a week later he admitted his VIP status. Countrywide execs insisted that VIPs were constantly reminded of their privileges. Despite this, Dodd said he was oblivious to any preferential treatment he may have received while refinancing. With his declaration of innocence, Dodd promised that he would release his mortgage documents for public view, at some point. As the months passed without answers, the economy worsened and so did Senator Dodd’s approval ratings, which usually held above 60 percent. According to a poll taken by the University of Connecticut, they had dropped to 42 percent by October. Finally, on February 2, after 153 days, Dodd invited a select group of reporters to his office in Hartford to briefly “review” over 100 pages of documentation concerning his 2003 refinancing with Countrywide. This press conference, penned by The Wall Street Journal as a “Peek-A-Boo Disclosure,” was highly criticized and left many questions unanswered. While it appeared as though Dodd refinanced at a standard rate, he received other preferential treatment including a free “float-down,” or the right to borrow at a lower rate even if interest rates decrease. There was also no documentation proving Dodd’s claim that he was unaware of the benefits he enjoyed as a VIP. Once again, discontent over Dodd’s lack of transparency was reflected in his approval ratings, which struggled to remain above 40 percent from February through mid-March. Clearly, the role Dodd played in rewriting legislation to make AIG executives eligible for bonuses funded by U.S. tax dollars has only deepened his image as an untrustworthy politician with corporate priorities. Only time will tell if Dodd’s year of deception will seal his fate in 2010.

April 2009 17


The Real Organic Movement
Peter Radosevich
Upon reading the title of Ms. Ongaro’s article in the previous issue of the Roundtable (“Vilsack: A Disappointment,” March 2009), I was certain we would be in agreement about the reactions to Obama’s recent selection of Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture. Unfortunately, it seems that our agreement largely ended following the title of the article. Ongaro characterizes Vilsack as a logical link between agriculture and energy in realizing Obama’s vision for energy independence. However, corn-based ethanol has been cited by many as being one of the least efficient forms of biofuel. In fact, some scientists even believe that after accounting for the oil used for nitrogenous fertilizer, gas guzzling mega-tractors, and other factors, it actually takes more energy to produce corn-based ethanol than is created. It turns out that agriculture is one of America’s biggest consumers of oil, particularly if food transport is included. Ms. Ongaro also states that “Vilsack has received praise and support from various environmental and energy-conscious groups, such as the Corn Refiners Association.” I am unsure as to whether the Corn Refiners Association is meant to be interpreted as environmentally conscious or energy conscious, but I’d like to propose an alternative possibility. Perhaps the Corn Refiners Association has a large vested interest in the continued delivery of massive subsidies for the production of corn, and in turn, corn-based ethanol. Its support for Vilsack could therefore be viewed as support for his continuing lobbying on behalf of ethanol production, since he was recently Governor of Iowa, coincidentally unofficially dubbed The Corn State. To be fair, Vilsack has backed off significantly from his previous stance on renewing subsidies for corn ethanol, which some believe have contributed to the recent acute food crisis; however, the entrenched nature of his political obligations makes distancing himself from the corn lobby difficult. The “organic movement,” as Ongaro labels it, has at least initially been unhappy with Vilsack’s selection. This movement is better described as promoting sustainable agriculture or as anti-agribusiness, since the term “organic” has already been appropriated by major producers to create more profitable advertising and more enticing labeling at supermarkets. The word “organic” in this context is now far removed from the local, environmentally friendly, and humane “organic” that advocates of sustainable food production champion. Regardless, Ongaro fails to realize that the reasons this movement sees Vilsack as such a danger are the exact things she sees as Mr. Vilsack’s strengths and areas of expertise. He represents a system that supports big agribusiness companies, which hurt local organic producers by undercutting them through economies of scale and government subsidies. The continued production of corn-based ethanol fits into this paradigm perfectly. Despite the problems with Vilsack, all hope is not lost. The new administration still has opportunities to advocate for sustainability within the White House and throughout the country. When I spoke briefly with Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as he was whisked from his lecture at Cohen Auditorium to the dinner at the President’s house, he expressed more optimism about the potential for better food policy from the Obama administration than in his initial interviews after Vilsack’s selection. One sign of this potential is the organic garden covering an 1,100 square foot plot outside the White House that Michelle Obama has already begun digging up. Her potential as a first lady to promote sustainable and ethical agriculture is huge, since making personal attacks against the first lady is reserved for the lowest of pundits. Since it is clear that she cares about these issues, her influence could be key in reframing agricultural issues and putting America on a more sustainable path.

18 Tufts Roundtable

Détente with Iran?
Faris Islam
As Iranians across the world celebrated their ancient new year, they respect both Iran and its government and are willing to work Nauroz, an unlikely name added itself to the list of celebrants when with them as equals. As George Friedman, founder and CEO of the President Obama gave his wishes to the Iranian people through an In- private intelligence analysis firm Stratfor says, “Obama is trying to ternet video message. In his message, Obama signaled a shift in Amer- create a new global perception of the United States” which chips away ican policy towards the Islamic Republic, striking a reconciliatory at the suspicion of America built up by years of the unilateral and tone and focusing on projecting US respect for the Iranian nation— aggressive Bush foreign policy. While this tape signals a move in this an issue dear to Ayatoldirection, it must be the lah Khamenei and the start of such a trend, not ruling Iranian clique. the culmination. Despite his reconWhile many Iranians ciliatory tone, hopes welcomed the gesture, for a sudden thaw in the two sides are far from US-Iranian relations embracing in friend• Ali Khamanei – Supreme Leader, giving him power to over-ride were quickly dismissed ship quite yet, and sigby Supreme Leader nificant obstacles block any decision made by the government and influence their policies Khamenei, as he warned that path. The U.S. has tremendously. Known to be conservative, though sources vary the U.S. that change made its conditions for a on whether he implicitly endorses Ahmadinejad’s confrontations would be measured not better relationship clear, with the West or is angered by them. through rhetoric but repeatedly demanding • Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – President (2004- ), elected in 2004 through policy changes. that Iran halt its nuclear and currently up for re-election. Veteran of Iran-Iraq war and With Iran on the cusp of program and end supconsidered an outsider to the establishment when he emerged on crucial presidential elecport for those seen to tions and analysts unbe acting against Amerithe national political scene. Support for his confrontationist policlear whether the councan interests, namely cies of the West is not thought off as popular within the country try will swing towards Hizbollah, Hamas, and as he was elected to focus on economic issues. moderation or re-elect Shia factions in Leba• Mohammed Khatami – Former President (1997-2004), member President Mahmoud non, Palestine and Iraq. of the clergy though considered very reformist. Swept to power in Ahmadinejad, Iranian In exchange for these an Obama-esque platform for change, winning 70 percent of the policy towards America major concessions on could become a decidwhat many see as major vote in the 1997 Presidential election. Was originally running for ing issue when Iranians pillars of Iranian policy the Presidency again though dropped out and endorsed Moussavi vote on June 12. in the Middle East, the in hopes of forming a united reformist front. Regardless of shiftU.S. will begin working • Mir Hossein Moussavi – Former Prime Minister and current ing political tides in on ending sanctions and member of the Expediency Council, the highest arbitration body Iran, Obama made it bringing Tehran in from in Iran. Also considered a reformist and running with the backing clear that he was speakthe cold. of Khatami. ing to both the Iranian A simple cost-benpeople and their leaders, efit analysis from the a marked shift from preIranian point of view, as vious policy where the conducted by Stratfor’s people were courted in hopes of driving a wedge between them and George Friedman, shows that “the suspension of sanctions is much their government. When the President said, “I would like to speak too small a price to pay for major strategic concessions” by the Iranidirectly to the people and leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran”, he ans, and thus they have less impetus to negotiate with America at this implied recognition of the post-revolutionary Iranian government. time. Recent events have catapulted Hamas and Hizbollah to popuObama’s use of the phrase “Islamic Republic” was significant as well. larity at the expense of the U.S.-backed Saudi and Egyptian regimes, A recent article in The Wall Street Journal said, “using it [the title “Is- and the insurgency in Iraq triggered a public outcry in the United lamic Republic”] would grant legitimacy to the country’s clerical re- States in 2006 and 2007, resulting in Iran feeling more emboldened gime,” and Obama’s inclusion of the phrase was a further effort to en- and less likely to compromise. Indeed, to continue to place the enorgage the current Iranian government. The tone and rhetoric used by mous pre-condition on Iran that it must make significant changes President Obama thus reaffirmed the administration’s message—that to its security and foreign policies before dialogue can even begin

Who’s Who in Iran

April 2009 19

smacks of the hypocrisy and hubris in American foreign policy that President Obama has indicated he would try to change. Whether the relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic can be enhanced through other means remains a crucial question. With Iran’s acceptance of the U.S. invitation to attend discussions at The Hague about Afghanistan, a new front for cooperation between the two nations has already opened up. As Iranian and American interests in Afghanistan merge and as they seek a stable Afghanistan free from sectarian and religious violence, this avenue for partnership is rapidly opening up, especially with the new U.S. administration making clear that it is willing to work with rather than try and destabilize the Iranian government. For the Obama administration to show the centrality of Afghanistan to U.S. policies it must show that it is willing to work with Iran on this crucial issue and not let ideology and domestic politics hinder this potential partnership. With merely two months remaining until Iranians vote, the timing and political implications of the Obama overture could have significant affects on the outcome of the vote. Though much foreign policy power - in addition to final veto on almost all issues—lies with the unelected Supreme Leader, the manner in which Iranians vote will prove to be a referendum on the more aggressive, confrontationist approach followed upon President Ahmadinejad’s assumption of office. Coming to power vowing to fix the Iranian economy, the drop in oil prices has effectively ended any hopes of realizing this promise before Ahmadinejad next faces the voters. With rising discontent over the economy, relations with America could provide a useful tool for Ahmadinejad to mobilize the masses, either around the issue of foreign interference and disrespect or as the redeeming legacy of the president that oversaw the rapprochement between the U.S. and Iran. As polling within Iran is difficult if not impossible, analysts struggle to reliably predict whether the country is likely to embrace another reformist revolution, as it did with the election of Mohammed Khatami in 1997, or continue with the nationalist, confrontationist Presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With reformist opposition to President Ahmadinejad crystallizing around former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi and endorsed by former President Khatami, the challenge to Ahmadinejad could prove to be formidable. Though opting not to wait until the outcome of the election was decided, the Obama administration hoped to and must continue to tread softly. Meddling with internal Iranian politics in the name of vaguely-defined and abstract “American interests” has proved detrimental to the U.S. before—a lesson from history that the Obama administration will hopefully keep in mind. Faris Islam is the co-chair of the South Asian Political Action Committee (SAPAC), a student group that focuses on socioeconomic and political issues affecting South Asia. For more information on SAPAC, contact

20 Tufts Roundtable



The Journal of Political Discourse
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Tufts Roundtable

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