The Corner

A Weird Sort of Racial Chauvinism

A common trope of many pundits is that when they travel overseas now, they begin to tingle when those abroad, especially in the so-called former Third World, press them on Obama’s chances. Then the now banal theme follows: the Middle Easterner, African, South American, etc. tells the American pundit that he can’t believe an America would pick a (fill in the blank) — former Muslim, person of color, man with Hussein as a middle name, etc. — and that suddenly this liberality has restored his faith in the United States.

Then the pundit, straining to be fair, usually says he doesn’t know whether Obama could change things as much as his foreign admirers imagine, but at least this is an exciting time (finally) to once again be American. Indeed, the argument that an Obama presidency would appeal to our critics overseas and prove our liberality is becoming a powerful reason to vote for Obama for many of our elites.

Aside from the obvious point that we should not pick our presidents on the basis of whether those in mostly autocratic, non-democratic societies approve, there is something very tribal and racialist about all this chauvinism.

If a white male Christian of European ancestry were suddenly a likely successor to the Mubarak dictatorship, or were next in line to take over the Mugabe kleptocracy, or were stealing Venezuela from Hugo Chavez, or were going to be elected the next leader of South Africa, it would be of less than zero importance to me, and I would hope to other Americans of similar backgrounds. And I think most of us would shudder should an Englishman or Australian say “I just hope your next President is another white male Christian like McCain.” I was in Greece in 1988 when the socialist liberal Greeks went ga-ga over Mike Dukakis solely on the basis on his shared ethnic background and it seemed pretty absurd, especially when many promised they would change their dark view of Reagan’s America if a Greek-American were elected President.

So, one, I don’t see what is so great when a foreigner tells an American journalist that his view of America might change should we elect a person closer to his own perceived racial or religious self-image. Seems instead illiberal, tribal, and retrograde. And two, if Egyptians, Iranians, Congolese, or Bolivians want real changes in their own lives, then they should look to their own autocratic systems, not the United States that can do little to alleviate their mostly self-inflicted miseries other than to continue to shell out hundreds of billions in petrodollars and ever more humanitarian aid.


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