You may have read something about President Obama appointing Utah Gov. and GOP rising star Jon Huntsman to become ambassador to China. I’d be lying if I said I could add value to any understanding of the significance of that appointment, so here’s China-based James Fallows:

[A]n interesting and surprising choice — and at face value, a shrewd one. Huntsman is reportedly fluent in Mandarin, based on his time as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan; has an adopted Chinese daughter (plus another from India, in addition to biological children); is experienced in Asia, as a boy-ambassador to Singapore (at age 32) during the first Bush administration; and — so I gather — is on the modern-science as opposed to the flat-earth side of the debate about the environmental + climate issues that constitute the most important impending business between the US and China. More later, but on first impression a clever choice from American-interest point of view (completely apart from what it means for internal party politics in the US). Will also give the Chinese leadership something to think about: why the new Democratic president has appointed a rising Republican politician. Sign of bipartisan US views toward China? Etc?

As it happens, the other day I was (finally) reading Before The Storm, Rick Perlstein’s excellent history of the rise of the Goldwater movement and modern conservatism, and there’s a chunk in there about how some GOP mandarins establishment leaders turned to Henry Cabot Lodge to try and stop Goldwater’s ideological groundswell for the presidential nomination in 1964. Lodge, a Republican eminence, was serving as John F. Kennedy’s ambassador to South Vietnam, one of the most important diplomatic posts at the time, and an appointment made all the more poignant by the fact that Kennedy had beaten Lodge in 1952 for the Senate seat that became his catapult to the presidency. It used to be the case, in other words, that America would underscore its commitment to a given global partner by sending an emissary from the other party, showing that support for that country was deeply rooted. So we’re back to that, and for all the substanceless fetishization of the virtues of bipartisanship, here’s a case where it seems appropriate.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman