The global test 2.0

In 2004, during his first debate with President Bush, John Kerry argued that U.S. foreign policy should be subjected to a “global test.” This piece of advocacy, the closest thing to a defining moment in the four debates that year, reinforced suspicions that Kerry’s foreign policy would not put American interests first. These suspicions, in turn, probably cost Kerry dearly.

It’s pretty clear that Barack Obama also favors a “global test.” How can one construe his persistent promise to “repair” America’s image with the rest of the world other than as a promise to adjust our policies to conform to the preferences of the rest of the world? Indeed, Obama spoke explicitly during Friday’s debate about adopting policies that will “send a message to the world.”

Obama cannot even assert his patriotism other than in global terms. At the end of the debate, in what was obviously intended to be a big finish, Obama spoke of how his African father during the 1960s wanted more than anything else to come to America to study. Obama then claimed that “children around the world” no longer hold us in the same esteem. The clear implication was that our policies are to blame.

Obama thus intends to adjust our policies so that folks like his father will want to come to the U.S. Call it an African students’ test.

Like much of what comes out of Obama’s mouth, this particular “dream from his father” is rubbish. First, Obama’s father didn’t come to the U.S. in the 1960s; he came in 1959 (Obama, it seems, has played fast-and-loose with these facts before, claiming falsely that his father came here after the Kennedys decided to do an educational “airlift”). Second, at that time the U.S. was vastly unpopular throughout much of the world (“the ugly American” and all that). Third, if Obama really believes that African students no longer want to come to the U.S., he has been spending too much time in limos and not enough time on the streets (and in the taxis) of Washington, D.C. and other major cities.

But though Obama’s yarn tells little about his father, its use during Obama’s patriotism pitch tells us much about the candidate. For Obama, patriotism means making the U.S. more popular by bringing us more into line with the rest of the world. At best, this concept of patriotism drains most of the meaning from the word; at worst, it stands patriotism on its head.

But don’t expect Obama’s embrace of the global test to hurt his candidacy, as it did Kerry’s. It’s not that Americans agree with Obama; were Americans to vote up or down on this test, they would reject it. But I doubt that the electorate sees itself as voting up or down on the global test or any other Democratic doctrine. This election is becoming a referendum on the Republican party, and that’s very good news for Barack Obama and for the global test 2.0.

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