FiveThirtyEight: Clinton and the Asia Pivot

This week FiveThrityEight published an article Shannon and I have been hard at work on for some time. I’ve been fangirling (fairly secretly) for months about the piece. I’m a huge fan of FiveThrityEight and getting the email in December (December!) asking if I’d be interested in writing for them caused me to break out into giddy giggles on the Metro.


Much of what I write about daily is a touch obscure for most of my family and friends–far off places they don’t know much about and which don’t impact their lives in a noticeably measurable way. While I love that I get to write every day about Central Asia, I was very excited to get a chance to branch out (or really, reach back) into American foreign policy more broadly.

A year ago, when Clinton was launching (officially) her campaign, I spent a Sunday afternoon writing an article about what a Clinton presidency might mean for Asia for The Diplomat. I pinged the other editors for memorable Asia-Clinton moments–I’d only just started writing full-time for the site–and wrote the article up while sitting on my porch soaking up the spring sunshine. I suppose this is what led FiveThirtyEight to me.

I hope you take the time to read the article. Our aim was to explain Clinton’s record as secretary of state because it is a fundamental part of her pitch to the American people as to why she’d make a good president–and Asia, though a low-level issue in domestic American politics often simplified to CHINACHINACHINA, will nonetheless be something the next president will have to deal with.

Those with greater knowledge about Asian politics may be a little disappointed as we wrote the piece for a general audience. This meant leaving a great deal out. We don’t dive into the political nuances of Myanmar’s democratic improvements  or Thailand’s regression, for example. We explain the South China Sea conflict but don’t dip into FONOPs, nine-dashed-lines, or the Philippine arbitration case. We don’t make a judgement on the TPP’s domestic implications because it was an article, first and foremost, about foreign policy. I hope we made good decisions on what to include and what to drop, because it’s impossible to include everything.

I think the final product turned out wonderfully, in no small part because of incredible guidance and editing from the FiveThirtyEight staff. I swam through many a spreadsheet of trade data, Shannon waded through speeches on speeches, and our editors poked us with questions. They challenged our assumptions and pushed us to explain more clearly things the audience we normally write for takes as a given. This is the first article of significant size I’ve ever co-written, the first time a “quantitative editor” has reviewed my econ-logic, and it was all a great experience.

Fun closing fact: One of my favorite sentences made it through, virtually unchanged, from the first draft to the final run: “The TPP is one area where the policymaking record of Secretary Clinton diverges from the politicking rhetoric of Candidate Clinton.”




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