Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Jon Huntsman, Jr., Good for Everybody

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 5/20/09

As The Hill’s A.B. Stoddard has adroitly pointed out, President Obama’s choice of Jon Huntsman, Jr., for Ambassador to China was a shrewd choice and one of stealth, taking the most competent and attractive Republican out of the running for President in 2012. But it is good for Mitt Romney as well. Huntsman and Romney running together in 2012 would have been way too many Mormons. Considering how one freaked out the conventional religionists in 2008 (Eek! A Mormon!), imagine what two would do.

But everybody gains from this. This is the first dead perfect choice for a post Obama has made since he took office. And in historical significance, it is more important today than any other diplomatic post including special envoys to the Middle East or Secretary of State.

The Middle East is ancient history. China and the East are the future. If we as a country cannot turn and face Asia we cannot face the future. It is too his credit that Obama, who does have the Trickster gift, has outsmarted the armies of lobbyists who keep us ball and chain tied to the past. The most difficult thing our country has to do in the next ten years, and we should have been doing it in the last ten years, is like the TV character Frasier, shift our psychological base from the bar in Boston where we looked longingly back across the Atlantic, to the coffee shop in Seattle, when we awaken again to the rising prosperity of the Asian future.

There was a brief and shining moment in the 1970s and 1980s when it looked like we could greet China unafraid as an equal. Winston Lord and his wife Bette Bao Lord, known as China hands, were regulars on shows like The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. But then we somehow turned back across the Atlantic. Huntsman has long experience in the East. According to his Wiki biography after college, Huntsman worked as a White House staff assistant in the Reagan Administration, was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Ambassador to Singapore in the administration of President George H.W. Bush and a deputy United States trade representative in the George W. Bush Administration. He even did his LDS mission in Singapore. He speaks fluent Mandarin and with his wife Mary Kaye has adopted children from both China and India.

He has a boyish appeal and as Governor of Utah, where he was reelected with 77.7% of the vote, he brings a level of professionalism to government like we have not seen since George Marshall walked the floors of Foggy Bottom.

He may be taken out of the race for 2012 but any major Republican – Rick Perry who has recently made amends, Sarah Palin or Bobby Jindal – would be wise to put him on the short list for VP. But not Romney (too many Mormons). As VP he would first advance sustainable management to new ideas and turn arounds in a country in dire need of stability and restructuring, and keep the keel in the water for the long haul as we head into the Pacific Century.