George W. Bush. Despite being accused of as being corrupt, incompetent, stupid, George W. Bush was hated by many. He was called dumb, stupid, a hick, a war criminal, and just about everything one could throw at him, literally and figuratively if we include shoes. However, whatever you can think of him, he was always somewhat liked, even when his approval ratings were nosediving faster than... I don't know, something fast... Tim Pawlenty
's Presidential campaign. Tim What?
Anyway, even the most die-hard bleeding heart liberals will admit he's the kind of guy you would want to have a beer with. He had, and still has a unique ability to charm. A twinkle in the eye you can't help but like even if you hate him. He's a born politician, and whether he actually won Florida in 2000 or not, he proved himself to be more astute at playing the political game as a "man of the people" than his father, despite his wealthy, platinum spoon - Yale, Harvard background. I don't think "silver spoon" is even the right term here - this guy was CONNECTED. You don't get more connected than being first son of the President, and immediately linked up to so many wealthy Saudi investors, oil contractors, advisers, security experts, campaign experts, name recognition, and die-hard followers.
This is not to say Bush didn't have to fight in his own right to gain some political weight. He had to overcome some major hurdles, the biggest being his royal background. How does a guy with so much wealth and power get accused of being a hick? By making himself one. Looking at his father's prominent background: UN Ambassador, Congressman, Envoy to China, head of the CIA, Vice President, and ultimately President. There was nothing in Bush Jr.'s background that would lead one to believe he was an "average Joe." But he pulled it off. With enough photo ops of him cutting down tree brush, wandering around a ranch, and enough thrown together sentences now famously known as Bushisms, folks believed that Bush was one of them. Indeed, my favorite Bushism still remains to be, "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
We each have our own favorite. But, beyond the cutesy stuff, when we look into Bush's background we see an incredible example of political theatrics. There's nothing about this guy that would lead one to believe he was just a simple man from Texas. His background, his pathway to the Presidency reveals nothing of the sort. A man always "misunderestimated," and far more shrewd than any of us perhaps could fully appreciate. You may not agree with the guy, but intellectual capacity has never been his weak point. There was definite technique, calculation, and planning that went into every Bush "decision point" as he calls them. Close attention to giving the red meat issues to the far-right, and the occasional tip of the hat to the left, just to keep them at bay. Indeed it became difficult in 2004 for John Kerry to run against Bush based on a war that he, himself voted to authorize. A Democratic Party that was afraid of its own shadow, afraid to be called the "L" word. Liberal. A world Democrats still fear to use to this day.
People felt Bush was a man of the people and that Kerry, was a disconnected East Coast latte sipping liberal. But then, really - who was more privileged? Son of a US President? Or really rich dude? Wealth is commonplace in Washington and Kerry had no shortage of it, but in terms of access, and an easy head start, you have to give Bush the hometown advantage here.
Anyway, so all of this brings me to our current President, Barack Hussein Obama. I list the full name here, because it's worth noting that we DID elect a President with a name that by all accounts should have sounded menacing. You have Barack, a Muslim name. You have Hussein, the name of the guy we were at war with. You have Obama, one B short of the world's most wanted terrorist at the time.
When Obama was running against McCain, I don't think race was a huge issue in this election. Many, liberals will claim otherwise, but I think the fear that came from many conservatives was Obama's unprecedented international flair. We've had many astute Presidents, especially those that founded this nation; well-traveled, versed in many languages, educated and fascinated by the many cultures of the world, but none up to this point have ever been so outright foreign in so many ways. An upbringing in Indonesia, a Muslim father from Kenya. A very unusual sounding name, and a kind of unusual skinny foreign look. Let's face it, Obama does not have the Presidential look of a Romney or Clinton. I don't mean racially, he's just a very slim guy with a different vibe. The way he carries himself: The way he pronounces Pakistan correctly. The way he could travel to Germany and enthrall thousands. A President with a Nobel Peace Prize just for getting elected.
All of this in my view, created something that McCain unknowingly began when he picked a an obscure Vice Presidential candidate from Alaska, Sarah Palin. When the narrative of change, and internationalism, a new global America was exciting a portion of our nation - McCain shot back with his own narrative. Instead of selecting a qualified VP, he picked a young, sexy, gutsy gun-totin' woman from a small state, with little experience, and even less knowledge of the world and the affairs within it. We saw a split. A gigantic one. It became the split we're feeling today. Those that want the United States to be a part of the world, and those that feel the United States is different: An exception to the rule. That our country does not have to treat other nations with respect, or appreciate the UN. In that mindset, "we are the UN! It's in New York!" We hear from this conservative Tea Party side, that systems in other countries have failed, instead of elaboration on what aspects work and which ones don't. Perhaps some countries have things we could learn from, indeed America's strength has always derived from the innovative ideas of our immigrants.
Obama presented, after years of a Bush-led US policy that engaged in global affairs but did it with a swagger, and lack of regard for the world, the option to gain support and reconnect with our fellow citizens of Earth. Remember Earth? We would try to build partnerships, conduct military operations through NATO, abide by international law and close Guantanamo (well maybe one day). Some felt Obama's early trips were basically apology tours, and maybe they were, but maybe they were justified. I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an administration that had such low regard for the global community as the Bush administration, even Republican heroes like Reagan spoke fondly of so many nations, even our enemies, and when traveling would use diplomacy as a powerful tool to promote American interests, including standing up against the Soviets during the Cold War. Bush went in with an "Axis of Evil" policy, after 9/11. You're either with us, or against us. That made countries from around the world feel degraded, as if they were being treated like children, not respectable allies.
So, after years of the Bush-style touting of America's perfect greatness, and McCain's perhaps accidental creation of a new line in the sand with Palin, we saw a surge of unprecedented nationalism, anger and American exceptionalism. The Republicans split into two parties, basically. There are now those that want America involved in the world, even more so than now. This is not a Democratic view, indeed many Republicans are benefiting and making great deals of money through international operations and close foreign relations. There are those now, that enjoy kilometers over miles and meters over feet. Perhaps a stronger America is a more multinational one. A nation that can learn from the world, adapt, and do things with our own flair. Just because a nation thought of something before we did, doesn't mean we can't improve upon or burrow that idea. The founders of this very country burrowed ideas from great scholars and governments before them, from the British to Ancient Greece.
Despite our history of actually being quite informed and involved in foreign affairs, never before have we had a leader, President Obama, so overtly foreign in character. We have a leader that wants America to adapt and change with the world, not fight against it, and we have a Sarah Palin-lead side of this country that wants us to go back in time. They're dreaming of a world where the US is without a doubt the only powerhouse nation. A time where our dominance is complete and thus our emulation of other countries would only be in a slap in the face to our already perfect way of doing things. Obama's healthcare package doesn't scare the Tea Party because of its policy as much as its foreign nature. They see it as a stepping stone to a strange world, a European way of doing things that implies that our nation is changing in profound ways. Ways they'd rather not see, and that Bush I believe didn't show us, even though it was changing.
In my view, we must move with the world, explore and learn from the successes of countries that share our values. We will never give up our uniquely American way of doing things, but we also should not live, stuck in a delusional nostalgia, dreaming of a past that never really did exist. There never was a perfect America. We are always striving to become a more perfect union, and while the rhetoric of our politicians before us may have painted a picture of a US that was superior in every possible way, we now know that we a part of a global, technologically, culturally connected community. No longer is isolationism a logical path to progress, and no longer are we the only nation on Earth able to make great strides in progress. None of the world's tallest buildings even exist here in America. The fastest bullet train is in China. Virgin Galactic's space tourism is a British venture. If we don't adapt, we will fall behind.
I think we still have in us our best days ahead, the ability to pack a punch of incredible creativity, motivation, and excitement. Think Apple. Think Google. Facebook. We are still the country people look to for the great ideas, and new ways of tackling challenges. But in doing so, we must embrace our diversity. Embrace our multinational identity as our true identity instead of searching for some kind of imaginary 1950's, Christian white, hometown corn-eating, Norman Rockwell version that never actually existed and never should exist in the first place. Our power is in our openness, our ability to adapt, and embrace new ideas, and then take them to places no one ever thought possible. It's what put a man on the moon, and it's what will put America back on the map.