America's RSVP for the Global Century

The most amazing thing about Obama’s election to me has been the ensuing celebration. I’ve never seen anything like this before, and I’ve asked some people older than me and they hadn’t either. All around our country and the world, people are cheering.

It isn’t just the race issue. Well, maybe in Kenya it is, but everywhere else it’s more than that. It’s about America joining the Global Century. And even though we might be a decade late to the party, much of the world (including many Americans) are just glad we showed up and are hoping we brought the beer.

The 20th was clearly the American Century. From the Spanish War on, America was the superpower. We decided two World Wars, became by far the world’s largest economy, defended capitalism against the communists, and invented new technologies that improved quality of life all around the world at a breakneck pace. We had our missteps, of course, but it was the century in which we cast off our isolationist tendencies and became the modern world’s leader in nearly every respect.

The 21st Century, however, doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to globalization. Advances in communications and travel have shrunk the globe. The Third World is rapidly moving forward. Free trade has shifted the balance of power and will continue to do so until borders are little more than lines on a map. The European Union is strengthening, and radical Islamists, who thirty years ago might as well have been on another planet, are delivering their hate-filled message to our doorstep.

Obama once said of our struggling lower classes “it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” That quote may have been his greatest political mistake, but it was dead on. The only thing he left out was patriotism.

Patriotism has become the panacea for the unwashed masses, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, to the point where politicians are now criticized for not wearing a flag lapel pin. People are clinging, first and foremost, to the memory of the American Century. And just like their religion and guns, the Republican Party has, for the last decade, used patriotism to play the populist card against them in order to remain in power.

By choosing Obama, we’ve ended that cycle. We’ve signaled that it’s time to accept that we are citizens of the world. We’ve sent a message both to the very vocal minority in our nation who still is not on board, and to the rest of the world, that we won’t be ruled by fear anymore. We’ll make calm, rational decisions rather than ones motivated by misguided patriotism, and xenophobia. We’re ready to join the Global Century.

So what does that entail? It starts with a complete and total rejection of our jingoism. The global economy is here, whether we like it or not, and we can adapt or fall behind. It’s been too easy, politically, to adopt Bush’s “we’ll do whatever the hell we want to” foreign policy, but it’s only hurting us. Our failures in both Afghanistan and Iraq have proven that. We’ve lost billions of dollars and thousands of lives, and we’re no better off than we were before we started. We’ve hamstrung ourselves to the point where we are now unable to deal with the very real threat Iran, who are failures have rightfully emboldened, poses.

Though conservative talk radio hosts view this as America-hating (because America is “the greatest, best country God has ever given man on the face of the Earth” as one of their least intelligent and articulate yet most successful examples points out) it’s time to accept that while we still need to look out for number one, our policies have a drastic effect on much of the rest of the globe. It’s time to be mindful of our role as the world’s leader, and return to setting a good example.

Joining the Global Century means taking the lead once again on key issues that matter to all nations, like climate change. We’ve spent 20 years telling environmentalists and oil critics to go fuck themselves, and now that we’ve changed positions and, on top of that, are fighting an enemy funded by our own fuel dollars, we’re suddenly mad at China for doing the same. We’re worried about the coal plants they’re building while chanting “Drill baby, drill” at rallies.

It requires, perhaps most of all, recognition that the global economy is not a zero sum game. We all prosper together. The seeds of the Global Century were sown by our own nation building in the aftermath of World War II. Our leaders learned from the mistakes of World War I that stable economies make for peaceful nations and unstable ones lead to war. They sought to prevent the sort of hardship that drew a direct line from one global conflict to another, and they succeeded. Look at Germany and Japan now. They’re two of the world’s strongest economies and most peaceful nations. Let us not forget why.

If we’re going to move forward, our next leader needs to mend the fences steamrolled by the Bush Administration. If we’re going to conquer the very real threat of Islamic extremism we need to fight it the same way we did communism, with the world on our side. We can’t do it ourselves, nor would we want to if we could.

We need to stop letting religion factor into what should be exclusively political decisions. Our government must return to agnosticism. Ridiculous restrictions on stem cell research have stalled medical technology, preventing untold life-saving treatments. Belief in Armageddon, derived from literal interpretations of a book that reads like the writings of a third grader who downed a bottle of Nyquil, has led to disastrous foreign policy in the Middle East. At home we’ve resorted to torture and invading the privacy our own citizens. Basic human rights like marriage or habeas corpus are being willfully withheld.

We need someone to put a stop to it, and John McCain just wasn’t that man. Barack Obama might be. That’s why conservative politicians (Colin Powell) and publications (The Economist) all around the nation, dozens of Nobel laureates, and leaders the world over endorsed him before the election. Whether or not he’s the man to do it remains to be seen, but at least he understands it has to be done. And now, as a nation, so do we.

That’s why people are cheering in the streets. It isn’t about race, and it isn’t even about one man. It’s about America giving globalization a try. It’s about choosing calm rationality over patriotic and religious fervor. It’s not just about change in general, but about a specific and sorely needed kind: progress.

Obama’s got a tough road ahead of him, and unrealistic expectations to live up to. But if he even gets half way there he’ll be remembered as one of the top Presidents in history. The primary prerequisite to being memorialized as a great leader is taking over a country in severe turmoil. The big three, Washington, Lincoln, and F.D.R all did, and the parallels between now and 1929 are striking. We’re in the midst of the worst economic crisis since then and we have two wars, one which is unpopular and one which may be unwinnable, on our hands.

If he makes a solid dent in the first two he’ll have his name in the history books for much more than being a black man. And if not, well, he can’t look any worse than the guy who came before him. For now I’ll keep my fingers crossed while I join in the celebration.

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9 Responses to “America's RSVP for the Global Century”

  1. howard treesong Says:

    Did you actually write this? You realize, don't you, that Obama is significantly more pro-union — and therefore protectionist — than McCain? I can certainly understand voting for Obama. He's smarter and more likeable than McCain. But this analysis is ludicrously feel-good, ludicrously soft, and totally unlike the Matt Maroon I know.

  2. mattmaroon Says:

    I definitely wouldn't say I agree with 100% of his policies, or that one in particular, but in terms of overall economics I think he was far superior to McCain. If that doesn't sound like me it's because we haven't had dinner in too long.

  3. I'd say Obama is *pro-union. The asterisk representing major caveats. The first being that we don't know how much of that was pol-speak and firing up the base he needed to win a presidential election, and the second, he may have a quid pro quo agenda with union industries that acquiesces some protectionist tendencies, but requires commitment to progressive policies to strengthen the economy in lieu of globalization, e.g. his recent idea of bailing out the auto industry with expectation that all automobiles going forward are clean and flex-fuel. Also note Obama's senior economic advisors, not exactly anti-free trade protectionists.

    On these merits, it seems Obama will at worst be centrist on economic matters.

  4. I should also note that behind-the-scenes, Obama is considering an extension on the Bush corporate and capital gains tax cuts in the short term.

  5. If you are right Matt, Obama will let GM fail. Let's see what really happens.

  6. mattmaroon Says:

    I'm not sure I follow your logic, though I hope he does if the decision isnâ??t made before he gets there.

  7. Well said. Let me buy you a beer some time? You in the Bay Area?

  8. mattmaroon Says:

    I'm not right now unfortunately. Not sure when I'll make it back out there.

  9. Fair enough. Lemme know when you are.

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