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Over the Horizon: Defense and Security in the Tea Party Congress

Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010

For all their inflamed partisan passions and heated rhetoric, the 2010 midterm elections were conducted in a virtual foreign policy vacuum. In stark contrast to every election since 2002, national security played almost no role in either the Republican or Democratic national campaigns, with both parties preferring to argue about domestic issues such as the economy, unemployment, and government spending. The Republicans won soundly, taking control of the House of Representatives, and narrowing the Democratic majority in the Senate.

But the domestic focus of this election means the new Republican representatives and senators will come to power with a fundamentally domestic mandate. It also exacerbates certain tendencies in the structure of American electoral politics. With the exception of the relevant committee members, most representatives and senators are not preoccupied with big-picture foreign policy questions, focusing instead on the parochial interests of their particular state or district. These interests can affect foreign policy insofar as an elected official's constituency includes diaspora communities, defense industries, military bases, or particular industrial and agricultural sectors. But though often vocal in defense of their single-issue prerogatives, these constituencies rarely offer up a grand critique of the president's foreign policy choices. ...

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