It is political orthodoxy in this election season that presidential candidates must insist on their intent to restore America’s goodwill throughout the world after the damage inflicted by the Bush administration. And what a fitting sentiment given that the Democratic National Convention will take place right on the heels of the world community joining hands and professing solidarity at the 2008 Summer Olympics, an event that is appropriately hosted by the repressive Chinese People’s Republic.
The Democratic Party’s hopeful savior, Barack Obama, has made it clear that he will draw a sharp distinction between himself and John McCain through his approach to foreign policy and his emphasis on diplomacy and multi-nationalism. His commitment to restoring America’s image and withdrawing from Iraq makes him the preferred candidate for much of Western Europe, and much of the world for that matter. However, Barack Obama’s lead in world public opinion polls is something John McCain should highlight and embrace, rather than resist.
If Mr. McCain finds this strategy flawed, he should read Natan Sharansky’s latest book, “Defending Identity,” which discusses the crucial distinctions between the United States and much of the world, including the European bloc. Mr. Sharansky, a Jewish former Soviet dissident who spent years in the gulags for trying to hold the Soviet Union accountable to its international human-rights commitments, explains as his central thesis that identity without democracy is totalitarianism, but democracy without identification to the larger community is weak and doomed to fail.
Today, identity (like democracy and freedom) is under attack. The different perceptions of its importance help to explain the trans-Atlantic rift between the United States and Europe, as well as many of the underlying ideological differences between conservatives and liberals in America. Mr. Sharansky identifies post-identity schools of thought, along with Marxism, as the two historical ideological assaults on identity. Not coincidentally, both are leftist ideologies that undermine both the individual and the collective. And while Marxism has been largely repudiated, the multicultural ideologies embodied by academia and supra-national institutions are alive and well. Their proponents believe that by minimizing the importance of national boundaries and cultural differences, the “international community” can create a uniform utopian society without conflict. In some sense, it is the natural extension of the Olympics in Beijing, represented by the International Olympic Committee slogan, “One World, One Dream.” With the commitment to freedom and democracy, as well as identity, conservatives have defied the multicultural temptation to regard all nations and governments as equally righteous. Ronald Reagan endured criticism and mockery for calling the Soviet Union what it was: an “Evil Empire.” George Bush did the same, to a similar reaction, by labeling Iran, Iraq and North Korea the “Axis of Evil.” These worldviews are in stark contrast to those of the last two Democratic nominees for president.
In 2004, John Kerry said during one of the presidential debates that American preemption must pass a “global test.” Barack Obama has been called “the first global candidate” for the presidency, and he has proposed policies that would dilute the moral distinction between the United States and countries like Iran and North Korea, offering them legitimacy by suggesting he would meet with their leaders without precondition. Mr. Obama favors strengthening and deferring to institutions like the United Nations, which has continually undermined moral clarity throughout the world by condemning Israel more often than the world’s dictatorships.
This is where John McCain must draw the clearest distinction between his candidacy and Barack Obama’s. The war in Iraq is a manifestation of this difference in morality and worldview between conservatives and liberals, but John McCain should return us to the underlying ideology where the world can be divided into those who promote freedom, democracy and identity and those who don’t, those who believe that countries like the United States and Israel are the solution and those who believe they are the problem.
He ought to remind us that peace necessitates that we live in a world where different identities are valued and where democracy and freedom are required. And he, like President Reagan and Bush, should not hesitate to condemn those agents who seek to undermine these tenuous bedfellows.
Mr. McCain, like Mr. Sharansky, spent years imprisoned while fighting for democracy, and, like Mr. Sharansky, his identification with a greater cause and community surely enabled him to survive. He must tell this narrative and articulate how it represents an ideology different from that possessed by Barack Obama and much of Western Europe. After all, “E Pluribus Unum” is not “Yes We Can.” That is a good thing.
Brett Joshpe, a lawyer, is co-author of the book “Why You’re Wrong About the Right.”
By Elaine Donnelly
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