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The Muddle of Moral Clarity

Having prematurely declared neoconservatism as good as dead among the 2012 candidates, James Traub notices that Pawlenty’s neoconservative foreign policy speech was an uninspired collection of talking points:

“Moral clarity,” then, is the alternative both to the heartless realism of engagement and to the short-sightedness and penny-pinching of isolationism. But Pawlenty’s moral clarity didn’t feel as clear as Reagan’s or Sen. John McCain’s. Theirs’ was rooted in life experience and was consistent with a broader worldview, just as “engagement” is rooted in Obama’s own experience and his intuitions about the world. Pawlenty’s views sounded as borrowed as T-Paw, his NBA-style nickname. It felt like he had rummaged in the closet of Republican policy options and come out with whatever seemed to fit. (Of course Mitt Romney seems to do this with almost everything.) And the hat turns out to be a little too big for his head.

It was interesting that Pawlenty didn’t try to con his CFR audience with claims that overseas trade missions as governor count as foreign policy experience. To date, that has been his standard answer. It’s not just that Pawlenty, unlike Marco Rubio, can’t provide a biographical anecdote to illustrate why he believes in these bad ideas, but that these ideas are clearly so far removed from American interests that it is virtually impossible to relate them to Americans’ experiences.

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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