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A photo of Larry Jacobs, a U of M political science professor.

Lawrence Jacobs, director of the University's Center for the Study of Politics and Governance, is the primary organizer of the conference.

Presidential politics in the crosshairs

A University conference examines election year politics and policies

By Deane Morrison

September 2, 2008

Little is sure in the 2008 presidential race, but whoever wins will inherit a daunting set of foreign policy issues and will deal with Congress in ways that can't be foreseen. Those were some of the opinions voiced Tuesday (September 2) at a University conference on "America's Future: Conversations about Politics and Policy during the 2008 Republican National Convention." Held in the Humphrey Institute on the Twin Cities campus, the conference will continues today and Thursday. Among the knotty foreign policy issues the new president will face are immigration and NAFTA. Edward Alden from the Council on Foreign Relations said that John McCain has taken a rather hard line: "Secure the borders before we reform immigration." But, said Alden, "We can't secure the borders without reform." Alden also said there's little enthusiasm for international trade negotiations in the United States right now, one problem with them being that the profits from economic growth have mainly gone to those in the upper layers of society. "We need to look at ways to redistribute the gains from international trade, either by taxes or some other way," he said, adding that he thinks Obama will "quietly forget his promise to renegotiate NAFTA, although I suspect he'll want to strengthen the protections for labor and environment" contained in side agreements to the treaty. On Iran, Kim Holmes of the Heritage Foundation said McCain and Obama would face the same constraints. The president must not let the situation with Iran's nuclear capacity get to the point where Israel feels it must attack an Iranian nuclear facility. Making clear that Iran will face consequences if it attacks Israel should be part of the strategy, he said. Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, added that the American president must consider the repercussions of a preemptive strike on Iran. It could well increase support in Iran for restarting the program and this time completing it, as a mature nuclear program would presumably deter such attacks. Haass also called for policies to reduce the isolation of Russia. A Russia that is more connected to the rest of the world would have more to lose by misbehaving, as by its intervention in Georgia and its threat to cut off natural gas supplied to Europe. "This is the price we pay for not having a strong energy policy," said Haass. "It leads to dollars going to [unsavory] governments." A discussion of campaign ads revealed that both candidates fib about their opponent, although they have also dropped claims whose lack of veracity was pointed out to them. Still, said Bill Adair, whose PolitiFact Web site rates campaign claims for truthfulness, misleading ads typically reach hundreds of thousands of people multiple times, driving home the messages before his Web site--which gets about a quarter-million visits during a good week--can set the record straight. There's no way he can compete, he added.

Read the second and third articles in this series.