A professor of political science at Wellesley College, Paarlberg spoke about the two candidates last night at the Institute of Politics to a sparse audience.
Co-sponsored by votegopher.com, a non-partisan political website founded by Harvard students last year, the presentation was the final installment of Election 101, a three-part series designed to educate students about prevalent issues in the upcoming election.
Paarlberg used his speech to elucidate the stark differences in the two candidates’ approaches to key foreign policy concerns.
Calling Republican presidential nominee John McCain “a warrior and a patriot,” Paarlberg noted that the Arizona senator enjoys gambling and confrontation. He said McCain would use American military power only to “advance national interest or protect national honor.”
In contrast, Paarlberg labeled the Democratic nominee Barack Obama a “Wilsonian internationalist” who is “by instinct, a skeptic about past performance of United States foreign policy.” He said the Illinois senator seems most comfortable employing American military power for humanitarian purposes.
Another difference between the candidates, Paarlberg said, is that McCain has had a “lifelong interest” in foreign policy. Pointing out that Obama has never been to Latin America, Paarlberg called the candidate “distinctively disinterested in foreign policy.”
The professor also emphasized that both candidates have moderated their policies since the primary season, moving more towards the political center.
“In the general election, as opposed to the primary season, voters don’t want candidates with extreme foreign policy positions,” he said.
According to Paarlberg, Obama has toughened so as not to seem a “liberal Wilsonian reluctant to use military force,” while McCain has “softened” in order to not appear so eager to deploy American military power.
Paarlberg acknowledged that, given recent economic events, the next president will be expected to focus his energies on fixing the current domestic problems.
“The speed of change over the last six weeks is more than I can ever remember,” he said.
“We don’t know where this is going; it’s a dramatic crisis that’s going to have an impact on foreign policy.”
Paarlberg also said that America’s recent economic woes have helped the Democratic cause immensely.
“When America faces a foreign policy crisis, the Republicans get elected. When America faces an economic crisis, the Democrats get elected” he said. “In this kind of crisis, the Democrats could elect Dennis Kucinich.”