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Huntsman, Partisanship and Opportunism

Will Wilkinson marvels at the political tribalism behind anti-Huntsman sentiment (via Andrew):

If you’re like me, Mr Huntsman’s willingness to set aside partisanship and serve in a Democratic administration, in spite of his high political aspirations, argues in favour of his loyalty to the country. But if you’re like me you’re not a conservative, and you don’t really care that much about loyalty. Rock-ribbed conservatives I think see it like this: By agreeing to serve as ambassador to China under Barack Obama, Mr Huntsman picked a side, and it wasn’t the side of the conservative tribe.

I’m not a Republican, so I don’t attach much importance to partisan loyalty, and I generally take a dim view of political tribalism. Huntsman did good work as ambassador to China, and there’s no question about his loyalty to the U.S. Maybe he shouldn’t have to choose between Republican political ambitions and accepting an appointment from a Democrat, or maybe it is a “centrist” fantasy that bipartisanship is a good thing in itself. That said, even I understand that it is a fairly presumptuous thing to try to win the top political position within one’s own party after having gone to work for the administration that you and your party are dedicated to defeating in the next election. There’s a reason that no one has succeeded in doing what Huntsman is trying to do, and that is because Huntsman has been trying to have it all: he wanted his dream job and he wanted to pursue his political ambitions.

I don’t agree with conventional Republican objections to Obama’s foreign policy, most of which are based on false claims or ridiculous distortions of what Obama has actually done. Obama’s China policy mostly represents continuity with that of his predecessor (and it is arguably more confrontational), and realistically the China policy of the next Republican administration isn’t going to be all that different. However, according to the administration’s partisan critics (including Huntsman!) his foreign policy has been a failure that needs to be changed. Huntsman represented the United States in Beijing, but he was serving a particular administration and carrying out its policies. If most Republicans claim that administration policy is bad policy, it makes a certain amount of sense to hold this against Huntsman. Since returning from China, Huntsman has said, “President Obama’s policies have weakened America, and thus diminished America’s presence on the global stage.” That raises two questions. If Huntsman believed that Obama was weakening America, why did he stay in Beijing for two years? Or could it be that Huntsman doesn’t really think that Obama’s policies have weakened America, but feels compelled to say so to satisfy a Republican audience? Huntsman’s lack of partisan loyalty doesn’t concern me, but his opportunism does.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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