Good Morning America - a Letter from the Free World
Here is the News. You will soon be electing a new President, the 44th man (as Hilary is out of the race) to hold that greatest office of state. Will it be Obama or McCain? I promise you now, I will mention neither name again in this hub. That is not my purpose in writing.
This honorary title will inevitably be applied to the eventual winner, if not by the man himself, then certainly by many of his supporters. Grudgingly perhaps, also by some of his opponents. Leaving aside the elusive question of exactly what constitutes the Free World, let's assume for the moment that such a World exists, or is desired to exist, and that many people inside and outside USA feel they are, or would like to be, a part of it. Hard on the heels of any such assumption must come the question - what is freedom?
Let's not get sidetracked into the details of tax thresholds, health provision, oil prices, etc. Such things fluctuate by nature and are the stuff of politics and market forces. The truer measure of freedom is empowerment of the individual. Empowerment to think, believe, speak and act, or even to choose to do none of these things, with impunity, and without State interference (except in extreme cases which we needn't itemise here).
It is further generally accepted that even in a 'free' society everyone can't have a direct say in everything: special cases make bad law, while the sheer logistics of putting everything of consequence to a referendum makes nonsense of the very idea. The familiar answer to the problem of reconciling individual empowerment with centralised power is universal suffrage. If you don't like your leaders, vote them out at the first opportunity. Again, while it's a truism that the available choice might sometimes seem to be between undesirables, the fact remains it's one choice more than you'd get in a totalitarian state. Citizens who don't vote are more socially irresponsible than those who vote against your candidate!
I am a British subject (technically we're subjects of the Crown, not citizens). Prime Minister Gordon Brown is the leader of the country whether I like it or not, and I am bound by the laws enacted by his Government. He was voted into Parliament by his local constituents, and into the highest office by his internal party machine, as successor to Tony Blair. Our system is very different from the American, though both are considered democracies. Gordon Brown is, in a sense, my de facto 'leader' insofar as his policies directly affect me. (As an aside, I've chosen to live mainly in Qatar, but let's not complicate matters!) Though I can't vote directly for or against Mr Brown, I can support or oppose his party at the next election.
A very different type of 'leader' is my favourite Scientific and Political Philosopher, Karl Popper. He's dead now, but continues to inspire me by the clarity of his thought and the boldness of his ideas. But my point is not to discuss Popper here - it's merely to demonstrate that there are leaders who are thrust upon us, albeit by a majority vote, mainly our political masters, and leaders we choose for ourselves, as individuals. These may be from almost any field, as befits our individual leanings - religion, science, politics, sport, even mere 'celebrity'. Call them role models if you like; they are still our chosen personal leaders.
As President of the USA, the eventual winner clearly falls into category one - elected political leader - with a mandate to act on behalf his constituents, American Citizens, and within the bounds of his constituency, the USA. Many Americans express the view that they would prefer their elected Administration to confine its attention to domestic affairs and leave the rest of the World to its own devices. This, of course, is a politically naive expectation in a modern globalised economy.
However, as Leader of the Free World, the new President can have no mandate whatsoever, as the Free World outside USA cannot vote in the American election. He can only aspire to be a category two leader - the role model type. Before he (or his Government) can claim to lead the Free World, it is incumbent on him to win the hearts and minds of Free World Citizens outside the USA. To do this, he must understand the different cultural values, predilections and aspirations of non-Americans. He must not act unilaterally in flagrant disregard of such Free World Citizens' wishes. Because to do so is to change his status overnight from leader to pariah. This requires no election.
American voters - do you want an isolationist USA, self-sufficient but crouched behind razor wire, taking no interest in the greater world? Then by all means find such a 'leader' and instruct him to stay at home. Or do you want to pull your weight for the greater good and hold due influence abroad? If so, please do your homework before you vote. Learn something beyond the stereotypes about Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Learn what these people think about America's recent foreign policy adventures. Learn what your friends around the World think. Learn even what your enemies think. Read their newspapers - visit their websites - watch their television. But do it for yourself. Don't rely on anydomestic service for all your information.
The American and World News Agendas
The American domestic news agenda is dominated (at present) by the US economy, mortgage foreclosures, oil and gas prices, illegal immigrants, off-shore drilling, Iraq and the so-called war on terror. Plus or minus daily variations. While not denying the importance of any of these, they hardly constitute a World Agenda.
I'm going to close this hub by juxtaposing RSS feeds of CNN World News, Al Jazeera English Channel and BBC World Edition. (N.B. not CNN or BBC Home). As they are RSS feeds, clearly I have no control over what they feature, but here are my observations:
- Usually two or three of the top four stories are the same (allowing for time zone variations)
- This suggests a wide consensus on what's important in World affairs
- The difference is mainly in the journalistic interpretation. (E.g. Jazeera and CNN may disagree over Palestine, but not over an earthquake in China)
- When we focus on our common humanity, we begin to tolerate, respect and eventually appreciate each other
Have a read, from all sides. In your largesse as a great nation, please take your responsibility seriously. And remember: the only possible Leader of the Free World is a leader that the Free World respects. When you cast your vote, please respect our wishes too. Thank you for reading.