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Candidates indulge in China-bashing. But it's a distraction, not a solution.

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Jason Reed/Reuters/File

(Read caption) President Obama (R) meets with China's President Hu Jintao at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico, in June. Every presidential election, a foreign bogeyman pops up. In 2012, it's China.

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Xenophobia is the oldest trick in the book. Another election and another foreign bogeyman conveniently appears.

In my own political memory, first it was the Saudis. In the mid-1970s, they were going to buy the United States with all their OPEC oil revenues. Then it was the Japanese. In the late 1980s, the American public was more afraid of Japanese yen taking over the country than Soviet missiles. Mexico via NAFTA would wreck the economy, or so said the Republicans in 1996 at their convention, strategically positioned in San Diego. For the 2000 election it was Chinese spying, Al Gore visiting a Buddhist temple, and such.

Just one of the problems with crying wolf is exemplified by our tragic vulnerability to Al Qaeda in 2001. You may remember the Bush administration was distracted playing Spy vs. Spy with the Chinese – bargaining for the return of our crash-landed spy plane from Hainan Island that summer, just short days before Sept. 11. 

Somehow in 2012, while the Middle East boils and roils once again, we’re talking about China as our biggest problem. Really?

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