by Jeff Fleischer(The Southland Times (Invercargill, New Zealand), September 11, 2003) During her tenure as U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, Carol Moseley Braun saw firsthand the impact a female head of state could make. Last February, she followed Helen Clark’s example by adding her name to the list of candidates seeking to challenge George W. Bush for the US presidency.
“Longtime supporters urged me to step forward and to reengage in the public policy debates facing our country,” Ms Moseley Braun said, adding that some urged her to run again for her former seat representing Illinois in the US Senate. “But having been in New Zealand and having known two women prime ministers, I decided that it made much more sense for me to engage at the level that was commensurate with my experience as well as my interests.”
Ms Moseley Braun, 56, faces a crowded field, with eight other candidates already seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and at least two others mulling a run. Starting with the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19, the candidates will face each other in a series of state-by-state primaries, with the winner facing Bush in November 2004.
The former ambassador must confront an uphill battle, as she currently trails most of her competitors in the polls and ranked eighth of the nine in campaign fundraising, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed in July.
However, she has come from behind before.
In 1992, Ms Moseley Braun ran for the Senate as an underdog, defeated popular incumbent Alan Dixon in the primary and eventually won the seat in the general election. In doing so, she became the first and only black woman elected to the Senate.
Now, Ms Moseley Braun becomes the first black woman to seek a major party’s nomination since Shirley Chisholm in 1972. On Aug. 26, she helped her cause by receiving the endorsement of the National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Political Caucus, two influential equal-rights organizations.
“She brings a passion on issues,” former Illinois Sen. Paul Simon said. “I think it’s a healthy thing to have a female candidate in the race and to have an African-American candidate in the race.”
Ms Moseley Braun brings another important difference to the Democratic field. After she lost her Senate reelection bid in 1998, then-President Bill Clinton appointed her ambassador to New Zealand, as well as Samoa, the Cook Islands and Antarctica. Throughout her campaign, Ms Moseley Braun has cited that role as giving her an advantage on foreign policy, as she is the only former diplomat in the race.
“The reality is that a president is going to spend one-third to one-half of his or her time on foreign policy,” said Mr Simon, who mounted a presidential campaign himself in 1988 and now chairs the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. “And we generally haven’t devoted enough time to foreign policy in the campaign.”
Ms Moseley Braun, conversely, has made international relations a central focus of her platform, consistently criticizing the Bush administration for the preemptive war in Iraq and the image of America it projects to the rest of the world. Ms Moseley Braun believes the lack of support for the war at home provides a chance for the next president to reverse the “Bush doctrine” of preemption and repair international relations damaged by the conflict.
“We saw an outcropping of American imperialism at the turn of the last century,” she said. “And that genie was put back in the bottle because the American people were not comfortable with it and didn’t want it. I think the same thing today – most Americans would just as soon not have us shooting first. Most Americans would just as soon, I think, like to see a more collaborative foreign policy.”
The former ambassador praised the New Zealand government for the role it has played in working for global peace. She also believes the country’s anti-nuclear policies “should not foreclose our willingness to work with New Zealand” on law enforcement and security issues.
“I actually had maintained to our State Department that New Zealand was in a pivotal position in regards to security issues in the region,” Ms Moseley Braun said. “It obviously has a voice and it punches above its weight in international forums to begin with. But in terms of the region specifically, New Zealand had a lot to offer and, I thought, deserved support in regard to those challenges.”
Before she was approached about the ambassador job, Ms Moseley Braun said she knew little about New Zealand. But she learned as much as she could before heading to Wellington in December 1999.
“We are fortunate here in Chicago to have probably one of the world’s best collections of Maori anthropological information,” Ms Moseley Braun said. “And we’ve got scholars at our Field Museum [of Natural History] who are experts in not only New Zealand, but the entire region. So I had the benefit of being able to get tutored here at home.”
Part of that tutoring included visits to Ruatepupuke 2, one of the few Marae outside New Zealand, which is housed at the Field Museum. As ambassador, Moseley Braun hired the first Maori at the U.S. Embassy.
She said she learned a great deal during her tenure by traveling throughout both the north and south islands, in addition to the other territories in her diplomatic portfolio.
“I was inspired by the extent to which New Zealand has embraced alternative technologies and energy technology development,” she said, citing wind power and co-generation as examples.
“I think the climate embraces technological development and innovation. To the extent that that includes innovations in environmental technology, that’s been a good thing for New Zealand and can be a good thing for the world.”
The former ambassador also praised New Zealand for a climate in which women can effectively seek and win high-elected office.
“The development of consensus around the participation of women in [Kiwi] civil society has always historically preceded the development of that consensus here, unfortunately,” Ms Moseley Braun said.
“New Zealand gave women the vote before we had it here in the United States. So again, the leadership and the example that New Zealand provides in regards to women’s rights and equality has been very constructive and a positive thing.”
Both professionally and personally, Ms Moseley Braun reflects fondly on her time in New Zealand.
She said moments such as welcoming the new millennium in the world’s first time zone and becoming an honorary member of the Te Atiawa tribe influenced her life well beyond the political realm.
“I don’t think I’d be the same person I am today if it had not been for that experience,” Ms Moseley Braun said. “New Zealand gave me a spiritual rebirth that will be important for the rest of my life. It was a wonderful time. I like to say I was ambassador to paradise for two years.”
Now she hopes those two years of experience can help her achieve four years in the White House.