Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[politics] The international passion of Barack Obama

I've been thinking a bit about Barack Obama the last few days, for somewhat obvious reasons1. I haven't been particularly fired up about Obama, but neither does he have significant negatives for me, unlike, say Hillary.

What I find very interesting about him is an aspect that the media narrative, at least as I've seen it, almost completely glosses over. There's so much attention on his race and his youth that little mention is made of the fact that Obama is the most internationally connected candidate of either party in this election cycle, and quite possibly the most internationally connected candidate in recent (or even modern) history.

First of all, he's the son of an immigrant. A non-white immigrant at that, Barack Obama, Sr. from Kenya2. Given how big an issue immigration has become for our society, I find it fascinating this is not played up quite a bit more. Contrast this with the blueblood biography of Bush 41 and Bush 43, or the inherent populism of a po' folks Southern white candidate like Bill Clinton was.

Second of all, he spent time living overseas as a child, specifically in Indonesia. Speaking as a former foreign service brat who spent most of his childhood overseas, I can tell you that one of the most profound antidotes to the kind of blindly entitled smug exceptionalism to which so many Americans fall prey is the simple act of living overseas, especially doing so outside of a "Little America" enclave.

Americans have a tendency to see the rest of the world in our own terms. While this is basic human nature (and not some form of innate evil), given our nation's power in the world, this viewpoint also dangerously irresponsible. History shows that we Americans have a strong streak of both nativism and jingoism, forces which have aggressively (re)asserted themselves in the conservative wing of our body politic in this decade.

Will a President Obama be an internationalist? He could hardly fail to be so, at least as compared to the recent presidents. Far too many Americans view any respect for international concerns as an abrogation of American rights and power. An Obama presidency would impact our nation's views on immigration, both legal and illegal, and it would impact our foreign policy, both in some profound and probably unforeseen ways.

One of my greatest hopes for Obama is that he can lead us toward the rest of the world. I wonder why I'm not hearing more about this, from either his supporters or his detractors.

1. If you don't follow US presidential politics, Google the terms "Obama" and "Iowa" together to read all about why.

2. http://www.barackobama.com/learn/meet_barack.php
Tags: obama, politics

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