Friday, July 25, 2008

The President is Flat

(with apologies to Thomas L. Friedman)

Technology has not only fundamentally altered information dispersal — a revolution greater than that of the printing press — but it has made it possible to instantaneously connect to and do business with any one of 6.1 billion people across the planet. The world is literally at our fingertips.

In so flat (i.e. connected) a world, what does it mean to be an American? How do you define nationalism when the lines between countries, especially in terms of trade, are nearly invisible? As foreign entities buy up American icons from beer dynasties to the Manhattan skyline (we own plenty of their stuff too, let’s not forget) it just goes to show how small the world has become. We couldn’t be isolationists now even if we wanted to be.

Our children or our children’s children will see the world very differently, I think. They will not view it through such obsessively possessive and slavishly, tight-fisted nationalistic ideology. I own something of yours and you own something of mine and that is the nature of things. Better yet, there will be no yours and mine. Just the world's. It is an undeniable paradigm shift, to be sure, and not one with which many people alive today are comfortable.

And it has started me thinking: has the presidency of the United States been flattened as well?

The presidency is regularly referred to as the most vital, powerful job in the world. The president’s policies affect not just this country, but the entire globe. His actions, or lack thereof, impact many around the world just as much as, if not more so in some cases, than their own country’s leaders. To a quantifiable degree, the leader of the world’s last remaining superpower is, at least partially, the president of the planet.

Yesterday, Barack Obama arrived in Berlin following his successful visit to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and other Middle Eastern states. So far, he has been greeted at every stop with throngs of rapturous praise and well-wishing. His inspiring speech at Berlin’s Tiergarten, the German capital’s equivalent of Central Park, drew a stunning 200,000 people. Many expect the same reaction in Paris and London, the final stops on his tour. Never before has Europe seen this kind of excitement for an American presidential contender.

Some Americans have reported that the larger the European crowds and the louder the accolades, the greater their distrust and apprehension of Barack Obama. I know many Americans would say that the Europeans can cheer (or boo) all they want — it doesn’t matter. What matters only is what Americans think. But does it?

American voters should elect Barack Obama, in part, precisely because the rest of the world wants to see him president. I realize this may strike many rugged, individualistic, isolationistic Americans as offensive, but in this shrunken, flat world, we would do well to at least listen to and consider the wishes of the world with whom we must work so closely.

Sure, the businessman from England, the farmer from France, or the machinist from Brazil can’t vote in our elections, but do their voices matter? Sure, the computer tech from India, the nurse from Israel, or the artist from Turkey don’t live here, aren’t citizens and aren’t invested in the American experiment, but do their voices matter?

I think they do and should. So long as our country’s policies and actions so significantly affect the rest of the planet, the planet’s many voices should be heard and weighed.

Don’t get me wrong, the world’s opinions shouldn’t dictate every aspect of your behavior at the ballot box. But our world is too small and our interactions too frequent, the line between us too tenuous to simply ignore the feelings of the rest of the world and, like arrogant cowboys, do our own thing, the rest of the world be damned. We Americans are already known, especially of late, for our narcissistic arrogance when it comes to foreign policy. We cannot afford to continue to snub the rest of the world and still expect it to respect or care for us. We cannot be the equivalent of the abusive husband who beats his wife and yet still demands and expects her love and admiration.

The world is keenly interested in this election. When I was in Germany a few months ago, I discovered that Obamamania was as potent in Berlin as it is in Boulder. Like us, the world is hungry for a sense of where America is going. After the abysmal unpopularity of the Bush Administration, perhaps the world is ready to love America again, to display the same sort of affection and respect that was so prevalent following 9/11 but was squandered immediately thereafter. Obama is seen as the symbol of American renewal. Europeans are elated by the idea that the United States can transform itself so suddenly from a pariah to a worldwide inspiration. And so should we be.

The world wants change too. And we should give it to them.


Blogger nathan said...

What? You posted this over 7 hours ago! And still no posts about Obama being a baby killer and raper of old women? Your readers are slipping, Brandon.

Here, I'll help get things started: Any candidate cheered by the Krauts and the Frenchies, those godless welfare state scoialists, is clearly a pandering, unAmerican, leftwing radical. Nothing more explicit than that; not that he says he'll put their interests before our own, or that he'll mandate our children to watch Godard and Antonini films in grade school. It's simply that they like him. That's damning enough for me!

Limbaugh-Hannity-Coulter-Fox-Action Team GO!

8:46 AM  
Anonymous DC said...

I just read your readyroom post. Excellent as always. I have been following Obama's trip with much interest and I agree with you. But I can't remember if presidential candidates in the past have made such trips. Perhaps they have, and my senioritis is getting the best of me.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

I'm not sure. It's certainly done a lot more these days. McCain did it just a few weeks ago. (And while I agree with McCain that the media loves Obama more than it does him, they would have accompanied him abroad too if he was remotely able to pull the sorts of numbers Obama does as a matter of routine.)

Obama and Co. might argue that this visit wasn't as a contender at all, but as a senatorial fact finding mission. Yeah, right.

Whatever it was, no senator, contender or perhaps sitting president has ever drawn those kinds of numbers. I need to research to find crowd estimates for JFK and Reagan's famous Berlin speeches. Obama's crowd was climbing toward a quarter of a million people! Unbelievable!

9:20 AM  
Blogger nathan said...

Psht. Quarter of a million child rapers, maybe.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

This is precisely the line of thinking that has prevented liberals/Democrats from winning a nation election in the recent past. It is arrogance fueled by ignorance, a perfect campaign slogan for Obama by the way. Liberals are ignorant of the opinions and intelligence of the “average” Americans and thus are arrogant in their behavior.

The “average” American does not want to follow Europe. They want to continue to lead the way as we have for the past 200 years.

The “average” American does not want to back down to tyranny. They would rather confront it.

The “average” American does not want socialized health care. They do not want to die waiting for care.

The “average” American does not want reduce their carbon footprint. They would rather continue the prosperous lifestyle they are accustomed to.

The “average” American does not want double digit inflation and unemployment. They are happy with 3.5 and 5% respectfully.

The “average” American does not want our own Supreme Court citing European law in their decision. They would rather the justices look to our own constitution.

This list goes on. The reality is American’s understand we are not perfect, but we still stand a shining city on a hill. Efforts to become a more socialist/European country would only dim the light. It was embarrassing for Obama to present such ideas abroad. It was even more embarrassing to hear the President of France speak more intelligently and proudly of America than the presidential hopeful standing next to him.

"...From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person.”

"Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That's what constitutes the moral value of America. America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.”
President Nicolas Sarkozy

2:00 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

Ah, there it is.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

If this is "precisely the line of thinking that has prevented liberals/Democrats from winning a national election in the recent past" then you keep quiet and let us implode, no!?

I fail to see how an argument that claims we should take the rest of the world into account can be labeled as "arrogant" but that one that claims "The 'average' American...wants to continue to lead the way as we have for the past 200 years" is thought to be the height of humility and modesty!

If liberals are "ignorant of the opinions and intelligence of the 'average' American," then the average conservative has no idea what going on in the wider world, much less what that world thinks of him.

If the "average," tyranny-confronting American is what produced the current state of affairs in Iraq, than I am perfectly happy not being average!

I find it humorous that some of the above mentioned points seem rational, if right leaning, while others are the height of decadent narcissism. To claim that the average American doesn't care about the environment because they just want to be go on enjoying their spoiled life and cool toys is both criminal and reprehensible.

It always amazes me that conservatives think they are the only ones who love America, who think they are the only ones who patriotically defend its shining (if flawed) place in history. I don't seem to recall either Obama or myself alluding to America's desire to become a European satellite. At least one of us watched the speech yesterday. I'm curious, what exactly was so embarrassing about what Obama said?

And by the way, anyone who claims that Obama doesn't speak "intelligently and proudly of America" really hasn't been paying attention AT ALL.

2:36 PM  
Anonymous POD said...

The reason why there haven't been as numerous posts - yet - is because this really isn't a very good article. Obama is not running for president of the world, he is going to (probably) be the next president of the world's lone superpower.

This article is nonsensical to the point of absuridty. I doubt that the future President Obama would really in his heart believe what you wrote. To even remotely equate our national interest (our national VOTE) with the collective world opinion of persons such as a "computer tech in India" strikes me of the purist of utopian bullcrap.

Brandon, this article is seriously off the mark - even as a conservative - I could never see a President Obama governing with such extreme regard regard for world opionion. If he does, the US will become a significantly weaker country in the long run. (Is this the way you would lead if you were president?) US interests should and will always come first. Even Obama knows this!

Obama's cult of personality really freaks me out. Some people at my work - people that will vote for him nonetheless - call him the Antichrist. And I don't even believe in that bullshit.

Brandon, admire your love and affection of Obama, but I wonder if you will ever be critical of his policies when he does get elected president.

2:51 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

Ah, the Antichrist thing. Truly, the absolute, absurdist extreme of self-parodying of Swift-Boat style crazy talk. You can't even satire that shit. Colbert couldn't pull it off. We are just getting the first murmurs of it here in SW Missouri. I think going against these people - giving them the middle finger - is a good enough reason in and of itself to vote for Obama. Luckily, though, I've also been indoctrinated into his mass mind control experiment, and will believe in anything and everything he does. (*except* for getting a blowjob. That is the one thing I will not stand for. Illegal wiretapping? Whatever. Secretly authorizing torture? Yawn. Suspending habeus corpus? Hey, I'm not even sure what that is! Politically motivated suppression of both foreign intelligence AND scientific data? That's something only book readin' people care about. But... NO BLOWJOBS BY INTERNS. That's impeachin' talk, that right there.)

The good news for us Obama-crazed cult worshipers is that it can't get any lower than the hints at Antichristendom. They've got nowhere left to go. Darth Vader? Chthulu? The heart ripping dude from the sucky Indiana Jones movie with the little Asian kid? Yeah, none of them quite have that Antichrist punch, you know?

3:21 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

And my argument, POD, is that we live in a flattened world that insists we begin looking at life through more global and less nationalistic eyes. It has nothing to do with a utopia. It has everything to do with reality.

I never said we should abdicate our place as Americans, fold our culture into a global melting pot or even let the whims and opinions of non-Americans guide our every political decision. Perhaps you and Chris would do well to re-read my "nonsensical and absurd" post one more time. I really would like to see where I said that Americans should put the world's interests over their own. Truly. Feel free to copy and paste it into a future comment.

What I said is that we should consider the feelings and opinions of the global audience when heading to the ballot box because our individual actions at that very moment can actually affect that "computer tech in India" and millions of others like him. If we live, completely and totally only for ourselves, as Chris seems to think we should, than we are not even remotely the great nation he (and you?) thinks we are

3:28 PM  
Anonymous POD said...

Looking back at my comments, I do think I was a bit harsh in my thoughts and reacted in a knee-jerk fashion. My apologies if I offended...

With that being said, as an American influenced by an American society, I find it very difficult to give too much consideration on the plight of non-Americans as far as my vote goes. Our society in general tell us that our most important contribution to democracy is our individual vote, and that is a very personal thing.

Maybe we should vote in consideration of our impact on the world... but I would question if that is a good thing. Politics is always local and voters will be inclined to vote on issues that directly impact them, not so much how it affects people that live halfway round the world.

4:10 AM  
Blogger nathan said...

To borrow a mealy-mouthed phrase from the Republican party in nearly every campaign they've run since 2001: that is a pre-9/11 mindset.

But hell, that's a pre-internet mindset.

12:50 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

One might even make the argument that it's a pre-World War One mindset.

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. Not able to process it enough to add anything. Just got in from a weather-delayed trip to New England. Just wanted to say that I'm picking up tix tonight to go to the Obama town hall in Springfield Wednesday.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Sarcasm is the tool of the lazy thinker.

12:35 AM  
Blogger nathan said...

Thanks for the adage, Chris. It's true, I have moved on to sarcasm. It's more fun for me. Do you think anybody has ever once been convinced to change their minds of anything on the internet? I mean, I'm not gonna get anywhere with the "average" American's vocal and verbose proxies, the ones who still consider global warming a hoax, right? I know you feel me here, right buddy?

But more immediately, those that repeat stupid ideas such as Obama as Antichrist aren't worth anything more than my sarcasm, which I'm assuming is the post to which you refer. Are you saying they are?

1:02 AM  
Blogger nathan said...

Oh, and as far as my sarcastic post goes: that is pretty much the stock line by conservatives about Obama supporters isn't it? They haven't actually dug very deep into his positions, everything they know consists of what they've read in an email that somebody forwarded them, they fall to their knees and uncritically worship their candidate. Do I have that right? I haven't really misrepresented what's often said, have I?

1:07 AM  
Anonymous POD said...

This op-ed certainly expresses my viewpoint better than myself:)

July 29, 2008
Our First Transnational President?

By Rich Lowry
If elected, Barack Obama might make history in more ways than one. He will be the country's first black president, but also -- perhaps as consequentially -- could be its first transnational president.

Obama's personal history defies categorization, which makes it so alluring. Born in Hawaii to a black Kenyan father and white Kansan mother and raised for a time in Indonesia, Obama embodies the crosscurrents of globalization and the remarkable dynamism of an American society open to people of talent from any background.

Obama tells his story to emphasize its quintessential American-ness, a tale of how an outsider -- like so many before him -- came to live the American dream. This is all to the good. But at times it's a post-nationalism that comes to the fore.

His overseas tour -- punctuated by his Berlin speech before 200,000 -- showed him to be a potentially powerful American emissary to the world. It also suggested that Obama styles himself the world's emissary to us -- a discomfiting role for a would-be American president.

In Berlin, Obama called himself, unironically, a "citizen of the world." The world, however, issues no passports, nor does it have citizens. The world in the way Citizen Obama imagines it -- as a global community to which we all belong -- doesn't exist. Only backpacking hippies, devotees of the Davos World Economic Forum and U.N. bureaucrats speak this way.

Berlin at times sounded as much like Obama's coming-out party as the candidate of a transnational progressivism -- in which global norms are more important than sovereign nations -- as his audition as commander-in-chief.

In Obama's telling, a triumph of American arms and will during the Cold War was transmuted into a victory of a united world. He railed against "walls" of all kinds, even though walls are useful in dividing hostile communities (see, most recently, Israel and Iraq) and, in the form of borders, are the most basic stuff of nationhood. He addressed "people of the world" and told them "this is our moment, this is our time," as if the impossibly disparate people of the world can ever have a common will.

Obama feels fit to speak for the world because of his background. Presidential candidates once relied on the myth of the log cabin to convey their connection to the common folks. Obama's log cabin has gone global as a symbol of his oneness with the world's majority.

This is why he brandishes his upbringing and family as a foreign-policy credential. In explaining why his foreign-policy experience outstrips that of long-serving officeholders who know foreign leaders, Obama said a few months ago, "When I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa -- knowing the leaders is not important -- what I know is the people."

Transnational progressivism is closely allied to multiculturalism. Both share a hostility to American exceptionalism and seek to rein it in, by imposing global rules on the U.S. and by transcending its traditional culture (as defined by history, symbols and language). Obama, who for so long painfully sought an identity and initially found it in a black-nationalist church, clearly has affinities running in this direction.

Consider his gaffes: The world won't stand for us driving and eating and air-conditioning our homes as we please. We should worry less about immigrants learning English and more about teaching our kids Spanish. Gun-owning, Bible-believing people in rural areas are bitter. The flag pin is an inadequate symbol of patriotism. When Obama briefly auditioned his own presidential seal, "e pluribus unum" got bumped.

These are all hints of Obama's instincts, but he knows he has to check them. He has restored a flag pin to his lapel, ditched the fake seal and in Berlin was careful to declare himself also "a proud citizen of the United States" and defend America's global leadership. He'd be wise to do more. In November, the world doesn't have a vote.

© 2008 by King Features Syndicate

12:12 PM  
Blogger Brandon said...

"It is an undeniable paradigm shift, to be sure, and not one with which many people alive today (i.e. Lowry and several commenters here) are comfortable."

Still, you gotta love it when things like the rest of the planet being unwilling to tolerate American wastefulness when it directly impacts their standard of life, or refusing to deny the fact that this country is undergoing a fundamental shift in immigration, are considered gaffes!

12:30 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

That op-ed is, in tone, the most reasonable criticism of Obama's international tendencies that I've read yet. It's a good place to have a conversation. That's the sort of thoughtfulness that won't draw sarcasm from my direction. Unfortunately, many people are incapable of being as thoughtful.

There are many things I disagree with in its criticisms, (starting with the idiocy of the flag pin issue), but I don't want that to overshadow that, overall, it is a legitimate way to go about pointing out Obama's weaknesses.

But of course Obama has no weaknesses. He is my Dark Lord come to open the portal to the demon world, and begin his 1000 year Reign of Despair.


12:53 PM  
Blogger nathan said...

Oh shit. I think I did some lazy thinking at the end, there.

12:54 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Oh, and as far as my sarcastic post goes: that is pretty much the stock line by conservatives about Obama supporters isn't it? They haven't actually dug very deep into his positions, everything they know consists of what they've read in an email that somebody forwarded them, they fall to their knees and uncritically worship their candidate. Do I have that right? I haven't really misrepresented what's often said, have I?

Agian. More arrogance fueled by ignorance.

8:19 AM  
Blogger Rhonda said...

For me, the bottom line is that the U.S. lags far behind much of the world in realizing that people other than middle-aged white men actually have the brains, guts, stamina, etc., to lead a nation.

8:20 AM  
Blogger nathan said...

I'm not sure I was very clear, Chris.

I meant: that's what conservatives think about Obama's supporters, right?

I didn't say that about McCain's supporters, nor would I.

(Not that this would change one wit the degree to which you will assume my ignorance; it suits your worldview too neatly. Weren't you the guy that suggested I take a science course? Because that was awesome! I still tell people about that, from time to time.)

1:27 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Ut In Omnibus Glorificetur Deus