Friday, November 7, 2008

A Moment of Global Joy. Let's Not Blow It This Time.

The nice thing about televised images is that they sometimes convey the truth. What I saw Wednesday morning was genuine— pictures from around the world of people in other countries and other cultures as they celebrated the election of Barack Obama. I had seen this once before, in July of 1969, when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. The moon landing, like the presidential election earlier this week, was an event undertaken by the United States—purely in its own self interest— that, nevertheless, transcended the moment and the motive, and inspired the rest of the world with the example of what we could do when we were at our best. Both events came at a time when our national image had been badly degraded by our own hand, in poorly conceived wars undertaken for all the wrong reasons. But then, after a long period of much-publicized preparation, in the space of a single day, America proved that it could do almost anything. Maybe any country is capable of going to the moon or changing its culture 180 degrees in less than half a century, but so far, no other country has done it, and this— more than anything else— explains why the world could see Tuesday night as victory for the human spirit, and something more than a simple American political outcome.

Following the momentary global celebration in July of 1969, Richard Nixon responded to that reservoir of potential good will by doing three things. He canceled the last three planned moon landings. He ramped-up the war in Southeast Asia by extending the bombing from Vietnam into Cambodia and Laos. And he began recruiting the team of burglars that would be arrested three years later in the Watergate.

Sometimes, the world sees us better than we see ourselves. Let’s hope that this time we use our momentary global good will to better purpose than we did in 1969.

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