November 2007 New York Times
Obama in Orbit
by Roger CohenLittle that is certain can be said about the U.S. election a year from now, but one certainty is this: about 6.3 billion people will not be voting even if they will be affected by the outcome.Thats the approximate world population outside the United States. If nothing else, President Bush has reminded them that its hard to get out of the way of U.S. power. The wielding of it, as in Iraq, has whirlwind effects. The withholding of it, as on the environment, has a huge impact.No wonder the view is increasingly heard that everyone merits a ballot on Nov. 4, 2008.That wont happen, of course. Even the most open-armed multilateralist is not ready for hanging chads in Chad. But the broader point of the give-us-a-vote itch must be taken: the global community is ever more linked. American exceptionalism, as practiced by Bush, has created a longing for new American engagement.Renewal is about policy; its also about symbolism. Which brings us to Barack Hussein Obama, the Democratic candidate with a Kenyan father, a Kansan mother, an Indonesian stepfather, a childhood in Hawaii and Indonesia and impressionable experience of the Muslim world.If the globe cant vote next November, it can find itself in Obama. Troubled by the violent chasm between the West and the Islamic world? Obama seems to bridge it. Disturbed by the gulf between rich and poor that globalization spurs? Obama, the African-American, gets it: the South Side of Chicago is the South Side of the world.Michael Ignatieff, the deputy leader of Canadas opposition Liberal Party, said: Outsiders know its your choice. Still, they are following this election with passionate interest. And its clear Barack Obama would be the first globalized American leader, the first leader in whom internationalism would not be a credo, it would be in his veins.To the south, in Mexico, resentment of the Bush administration has less to do with American unilateralism and more with stalled immigration policy and the building of a border fence. But the thirst for change is the same.Mexicans want evidence that things are shifting, which means the Democrats, and of course a woman like Hillary Clinton, or a black like Obama, would signal a huge cultural change, said Jorge Castañeda, a former foreign minister.My sense is the symbolism in Mexico of a dark-skinned American president would be enormous. Weve got female leaders now in Latin America in Chile, in Argentina. But the idea of a U.S. leader who looks the way the world looks as seen from Mexico is revolutionary.Of course, Mexicans arent electing the president. Nor are Canadians, even if Michael Moore thinks they should. The America of the global imagination is not that of red-state reality, a disconnect that has spawned a million misunderstandings.