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Foreign policy identity politics is a dangerous path – The Interpreter

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Over the last few months, the general public has become aware of the “Wolverines”, a group of Australian parliamentarians who self-identify as tough on China and call for Australia to push back against China’s growing power. The group has stickers (and, for all I know, a clubhouse).

Framing national security in such identity terms is dangerous. Once foreign policy becomes an issue of identity rather than policy choices, it narrows what’s politically possible. This is likely to lead to bad policy that sacrifices Australia’s interests for politically correct adherence to a particular view.

Why is this a concern now? The convention that politics stops at the water’s edge has never been completely true. Political parties have always sought to burnish their credentials, such as the effective campaign to paint ALP leader Mark Latham as soft on the US alliance and the ALP’s efforts to spruik John Curtin’s and Ben Chifley’s alliance management.

Perhaps it’s better to say that Australia’s aspiration has been that issues of security are above partisan politics. This has relied on two factors: restraint by politicians and voters’ lack of interest in foreign affairs. This has meant that at the day-to-day level, international affairs has mostly been managed by technocrats.

The issue today is that we live in a time when politicians may be less inclined to exercise restraint and issues of foreign affairs may start to win votes.

If both sides of politics compete with the other to be most populist on security, that only leads downhill.

There’s danger of a turn towards the populism of offering simplistic answers to complex problems. This doesn’t lead anywhere good. If difficult multifaceted questions become party political, it tends towards lowest common denominator debate. Worse, if issues become totemic of political identity, it stymies productive thinking, with decision-making becoming a matter of identity, rather than policy. Just look at environmental policy.

In Australia, this can be seen in the current discussion of China with the tendency to couch differences in the absolutist language of sovereignty. In this worldview, every concession is painted as a surrender rather than as finding an area where cooperation is judged as worthwhile.

The turn to identity politics on China policy has real consequences. Wolverine thinking has already had an effect on issues including treatment of Chinese students – and higher education policy more generally – and on perceptions of Asian-Australians. “Getting tough on China” has led to downgrading of relations, restricted access, lessened influence and commercial disruption. At its worst, Wolverine couching of foreign policy in moral terms can tend towards Cold War McCarthyism, a hint of which can be seen in the treatment of the think tank China Matters. Overall, it narrows the range of options for the Australian government to pursue the national interest if the public has been primed to see China as an enemy, rather than as a challenge.

Australian beef for sale at a supermarket in July, Haikou, Hainan Province, China (Yang Xu/China News Service via Getty Images)

An immediate target has been business leaders, with clear attempts to delegitimise their views on China policy. When mining magnate Twiggy Forrest invited a Chinese diplomat to attend a press conference announcing the acquisition of 10 million Covid-19 testing kits, Andrew Hastie, prominent among the Wolverines, responded: “This guy drops out of the sky in his private jet and enables the Chinese Communist Party to ambush a Commonwealth press conference. Yeah, we’re not happy.” The strategy has been to paint businesspeople as self-interested and therefore untrustworthy on the relationship.

Yet to hear such black-and-white, zero-sum thinking in the context of Australia’s security versus its prosperity implies there must be a choice between the two. The equation being presented seems to be that Australia can only have security when completely independent; trade equals dependency; so if that means that Australians have to give up the economy for security, then so be it. To make such a decision would need to acknowledge the massive costs involved.

But the idea that Australia must choose between security and prosperity has the populist simplicity that makes it dangerous. And if both side of politics compete with the other to be most populist on security, that only leads downhill.

What is the solution? What Australians need from their politicians at the moment is restraint. When we see negotiation, let’s not call it appeasement. Let’s not demonise nuance. Let’s not offer simple solutions where there are none. By all means, make the case that your side of politics is better at managing foreign policy and security. Provide a contest of ideas on policy options. But don’t attempt to delegitimise those with different opinions by impugning their character or loyalty. Australia’s international relationships are too important.

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Mandryk: 2020 election needs to take the politics out of the classroom – Regina Leader-Post

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Article content continued

To be clear, there have been 85 new school capital projects announced in Saskatchewan compared with 32 school closures since 2008 after the Sask. Party took over — a period that has included unprecedented population growth.

And while New Democrat supporters might rightly be indignant about Sask. Party accusations of “NDP school closures” or playing politics with school openings, the NDP government wasn’t exactly shy about doing the same. (Political lore suggests certain high schools in Regina only exist because a local NDP MLA bitterly complained he was the only cabinet minister without a high school in his riding.)

Moreover, the current NDP surely has not been shy about distributing pre-election campaign literature that screams this government has “no solution for overcrowded classrooms” that now contributes mightily to the lack of safety during COVID-19.

Can the NDP credibly complain about dangers of classroom overcrowding while muttering about Sask. Party playing politics with school openings and closures?

And then there’s the little matter of the NDP campaign commitment to limit classroom size that would cost hundreds of millions in infrastructure and the hiring of teachers — a costly promise that may already becoming outdated by distance learning.

Of course, all this could inspire meaningful debate on education issuesthat isn’t driven by partisan politics. Just don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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It's Been A Tense Week For Politics And Pandemic Science – NPR

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Political interference on COVID-19 guidelines at the CDC, a DHHS spokesman on leave after attacking scientists on facebook live, and the President continues to contradict the science of the pandemic.

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How RBG's death could radicalize American politics – POLITICO

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“It means that we are going to war,” one influential Washington Democrat texted tonight when asked what the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg means. “They do this in the lame duck and I think Americans will rebel.”

The passion is understandable. Ginsburg was the most important and iconic Supreme Court Justice to liberals since Thurgood Marshall, the first African American on the court. She was the Left’s Antonin Scalia. Replacing her with an ideological conservative — creating a 6-3 majority on the Court for the right — would have enormous policy consequences, and not just on abortion, but on civil rights, gun laws, regulation and many other issues.

Just a few years ago, when the situation was reversed and Scalia died during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mitch McConnell denied a Senate vote to Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. Ginsburg has been ill for years and Democrats have been dreading the prospect of losing her before the 2020 election is settled.

Within hours of Ginsburg’s death, Mitch McConnell made it clear Democrats fears were warranted. As McConnell had previously signaled publicly, he released a statement declaring, “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

There’s some uncertainty about whether McConnell can cobble a majority of his 53 Republicans together to confirm a Ginsburg replacement. But his swift decision Friday night to reverse his 2016 position is likely to be met with two major reactions from Democrats, one short- and one long-term.

In the short term, the loss of the beloved Ginsburg, combined with McConnell’s hypocrisy, and the likelihood of the court shifting to the right, will enrage Democrats, both in the Senate and out in the country. In the Senate, Democratic leader Chuck Schumer will be under enormous pressure to respond to McConnell’s reversal with aggressive tactics.

“The question will be Chuck’s fortitude,” a Democratic strategist said. “He could shut down the Senate. A government spending bill is due in a couple weeks.”

There is a fierce debate about whether a Supreme Court battle motivates liberals or conservatives more. One conservative who supports Biden argued that dynamic favors the Democrats.

“When I heard that Scalia died I was fit to be tied because at that point we were looking at a conservative icon being replaced by Hillary Clinton,” he said. “It was like seeing your life flash before your eyes. It was terrifying. Now the Democrats are experiencing that. It is going to light the liberals on fire.”

Other Republicans argued that Trump already has the support of all the conservatives who back the president because of his court appointments. A fight over the Ginsburg replacement does little to add new supporters. Additionally, Trump’s political weakness this year is among college educated suburban voters, a constituency that is turned off by the idea of the Supreme Court overturning Roe vs. Wade.

But in the long-term, McConnell’s decision could have more far-ranging consequences.

“The winner of the election should nominate someone in January,” said John Podesta, the chair of Clinton’s 2016 campaign. “Anything else is a gross abuse of the Constitution and democratic principles.”

Since the Garland imbroglio there has been a bubbling debate on the left over how much to tinker with the Senate and the Supreme Court to redress what Democrats see as anti-majoritarian moves by McConnell and Republicans. The debate has pitted institutionalists against procedural radicals. McConnell will embolden the procedural radicals. Democrats are likely to become more united around several reforms that have divided them: ending the legislative filibuster, pushing through statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, and modifying the Supreme Court to include more justices.

Not everything in politics hyped by the media is as big a deal as it seems. But RBG’s death is one of those cases where it may be even more consequential than reported. It will certainly alter the makeup of the Supreme Court, but it could also alter the course of a presidential election, transform the Senate, and turbocharge the politics of procedural radicalism.

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