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Aug. 9: Professor's Book Chronicles Legacies of Ronald Reagan, Boris Yeltsin


Jonathan Potts

Legacies of Ronald Reagan, Boris Yeltsin Chronicled
In Book Co-Authored by Carnegie Mellon Professor

Co-written by Condoleezza Rice, the Book Shows Both Men Redefined Political Mainstream

PITTSBURGH—Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin were fringe politicians who came to power by redefining the political center in their respective nations, writes Carnegie Mellon Associate Professor Kiron Skinner and her co-authors in the forthcoming book "Strategy of Campaigning: Lessons From Ronald Reagan and Boris Yeltsin." The book will be published in September by the University of Michigan Press.

Kiron SkinnerThe book is co-authored by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Serhiy Kudelia of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University; and Bruce Bueno de Mesquita of New York University and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The authors show how the presidential campaigns of Reagan and Yeltsin illustrate the principals of political competition, and how domestic political campaigns can dramatically influence foreign policy.

"Our primary goal is to understand how candidates who appear to be out of the mainstream of political life — as many thought Reagan and Yeltsin were before their rise to the highest offices in their respective lands — can maneuver themselves into positions to win office through democratic processes," the authors write in their opening chapter.

The authors say that mainstream politicians, in conventional political campaigns, try to persuade voters that their solutions to previously defined problems are better than those of their opponents. But maverick politicians like Reagan and Yeltsin succeed when they can convince voters that their opponents do not understand the true issues, and thus redefine the terms of the debate.

Reagan, for example, eschewed the dominant assumption of U.S. Cold War foreign policy that the U.S. must live peacefully with the Soviet Union. Instead, Reagan argued that the U.S. must win the Cold War, and that the country could increase military spending without sacrificing economic growth. This idea that Americans need not choose between guns and butter allowed Reagan to form a new coalition of socially conservative blue-collar workers — the so-called Reagan Democrats — and fiscally conservative conventional Republicans.

Similarly, Yeltsin's rise to power in the Russian parliament was paved in part by his linkage of two seemingly distinct issues in Soviet politics: the question of autonomy for the Russian Republic and the Soviet Union's growing economic crisis. Devolving power to the Soviet Republics, including Russia, would help to revive their failing economies, Yeltsin argued.

Because both Yeltsin and Reagan fundamentally altered the course of world affairs, their elections demonstrate the influence that domestic elections exert on foreign policy, according to the authors.

"The events that brought us to this emerging world order are not exclusively nor even primarily the product of grand strategies in foreign affairs that were sustained from one governing administration to another. ... The end of the Cold War and the emerging new international order require a close focus on the role of leaders in their domestic context. Even political contests that ignore foreign affairs have the potential to change fundamental international relationships," the authors write.

Skinner is the director of the International Relations program at Carnegie Mellon, and a faculty member in the departments of History and Social and Decision Sciences. She is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and a member of the U.S. Defense Policy Board, the Council of Foreign Relations and the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel.