Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Cause of All Mankind

In the introduction to Common Sense, written in 1776, Thomas Paine states that:

The cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have, and will arise, which are not local, but universal, and through which the principles of all lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event of which, their affections are interested.
In today's Berlin speech, Barack Obama completed the circle that Paine began drawing in one of the fundamental documents in American political history.

For Obama, the cause of America is still universal, but the cause of all mankind is also America's.

Although Obama emphasizes that Americans are citizens of the United States, he also stresses that we are citizens of the world who stand equally with the global citizens of other countries.
I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before. Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen – a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.
Obama portrayed the Berlin Airlift of 1949 as creating a bond between the United States and Germany that foreshadows the need for even wider and stronger bonds today. He believes that the problems of Afghanistan, terrorism, climate change, and genocide in Darfur call for a global cooperation that requires even stronger bonds between the United States and Germany, the United States and Europe, and the United States and the rest of the world in general.
That is why America cannot turn inward. That is why Europe cannot turn inward. America has no better partner than Europe. Now is the time to build new bridges across the globe as strong as the one that bound us across the Atlantic. Now is the time to join together, through constant cooperation, strong institutions, shared sacrifice, and a global commitment to progress, to meet the challenges of the 21st century. It was this spirit that led airlift planes to appear in the sky above our heads, and people to assemble where we stand today. And this is the moment when our nations – and all nations – must summon that spirit anew.

The idea of a shared bond between peoples is something that escapes conservatives. The right has a difficult enough time sharing our society with liberals, urban dwellers, gay people, immigrants, and other people who aren't like them. The idea of "shared bonds" with people in other countries is almost entirely outside the range of their imaginations.

President Bush was a true conservative in viewing himself as above the rest of the world. Bush could teach, threaten, bully, and discipline other countries and he took special pleasure in holding the rest of the world "accountable." But he could never bring himself to view himself or the U. S. as "sharing" any kind of bond with anyone. That was just too much equality for President Bush's hierarchical sensibilities--trained in the privileged, pampered milieu of a rich white guy growing up in segregationist Midland, Texas--to bear.

What makes Barack Obama different from Bush is that he views American global leadership as being built on the equality of shared efforts to solve common problems. Obama's assumption is that other governments will be more willing to accept American leadership if the United States views itself as the "first among equals" rather than the dominant party in a hierarchical relationship. Obama's global popularity is a sign that that the rest of the world is eager for a new model of leadership from the United States.

But there is a question about whether America is tolerant enough of equality to lead in a way that the rest of the world finds acceptable.

And that's one of the many questions will be decided by this election.

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