Only Planet

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

He’s not the President of the World…


So why all the international attention?

Readers of this blog know that we elevate the opportunity to travel overseas up there with free cone day at Ben and Jerry’s. Which is why it should be no surprise that I spent yesterday morning reading about the reaction to Obama’s Presidential win in Kenya, Japan, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China and India. Ranging from words of praise; for the candidate himself, his campaign and the American people voting for him, to concern, to plain curiosity, this election has piqued attention worldwide.

Some Americans might wonder—rightly so—“why do others care? It’s not like we’re electing the president of the world.” I can think of two reasons. The first is that although the United States has a mere 300+ million people out of the world’s 6 billion, when America jumps, the whole world shakes.

I’m not just thinking of our wars waged overseas, or the ginormous influence that our movies have on popular culture, but that our policies can often shape the destiny of another country. Our universities beckon some of the brightest students in the world, yet immigration policies can change with Presidential administrations. Where and how we spend our dollars, for health and scientific purposes, not only benefits or hurts ourselves, but the rest of the world, where borders are often illusionary. Most important, our efforts to install democracy overseas ring less hollow when the rest of world sees the results of this election (a graceful exchange of power, a decent concession speech from the challenger, and a candidate unlike any other).

But I’d have to say that others care because they pay attention. America is a big somewhat isolated country; our only neighbors hail from the north and south and remain fairly friendly. We also have a national myth centered around the type of person who gets away from it all—the mountain man, the explorer, the pioneer—and central to that myth is not really getting involved with the outside world. But the cab driver in Bali, the waiter in Prague and the landlord in Paris do not have that luxury. They not only pay attention to stories that involve the United States, but they also read about their neighbors—which for some places can be a dozen or so countries. Overseas, most people don’t see America as a place that seems far far away—like Italy or China or Peru might seem to us—but as another neighbor in a tightly packed world.

Since Obama has lived overseas, and has traveled extensively, the rest of the world anticipates an America lead by someone who not only can read finely honed nuances, but also is used to having neighbors. Which may help explain why Ethiopian chamber-maids, were as riveted as their sisters in Germany and Australia to America on November 5th, 2008.

1 Comments:

Anonymous jan Atwill said...

It is interesting to ponder your question - why so much international attention on this election? I find it inspires people, both in our country and in Kenya and Paris and everywhere, because electing Obama indicates change. That change, like he has told us, is a positive move toward more inclusiveness, more compassion, and more honesty. I think people in the remote places you mention, like the cab driver in Bali, sense that change happening in our country, and know the broad reaching effects it can have. It speaks of more than skin color. We are so ready. Jan

November 13, 2008 5:55 AM  

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