Dear Jane of Ohio,
I hope that when you go to the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 2, you will vote for John Kerry to be your next president of the United States. From my outside perspective, I firmly believe that Kerry will make a better international leader who will not only work hard to protect you and your fellow citizens, but also others in the rest of the world who are affected by U.S. foreign policy. I do believe that Kerry will put forth effective policies that will once again lead America to be respected throughout the world.
I write to you not out of malice, but out of true concern about the future of our world. I will understand if in the end you decide not to vote for him, since choice is a valuable part of democracy, but I hope you will try to consider what I have said.
Although this is not an actual letter, letters similar to this were sent by British citizens, at the urging of Britain’s liberal newspaper The Guardian, to voters in the all-important swing state of Ohio to convince them that John Kerry would make a better president. Yet, the negative reaction of voters who received these letters, although disappointing, should not have been a surprise to the British public or anyone else. Sending enraged responses to The Guardian for what they perceived as the British meddling in American affairs, U.S. citizens once again declared their independence from this 21st century invasion by Mother England.
The reason for this response among Ohio voters is the same reason the British Member of Parliament I had the pleasure of interning for this past summer only had tentative plans to travel to the United States to campaign on behalf of Kerry. In spite of his idealistic view that hearing an outsider’s opinion would somehow awaken the minds of Americans, my MP and other MPs who supported Kerry had to admit that their visit might have the opposite effect of what they desired.
Two weeks after the election, I, like the rest of America, want to leave the whole experience behind and focus on the future of our country, but being the history major that I am, I find the lessons and issues of the past important for shaping our future. The issue is our aversion to the opinions the rest of the world has about us — the “Who cares what they think about us, it’s our country” attitude reflected in the angry responses some Ohio residents sent to The Guardian. It is precisely this self-involved insular attitude that needs changing. Accusing citizens of other countries of meddling in our affairs seems ludicrous since our leaders, political and corporate, meddle in the affairs of other countries all the time. I distinctly recall the MP who worked in the office next door to me walking in on occasion and saying, albeit jokingly, “You Americans, always meddling in others’ affairs.”
In some ways, he was right. Our foreign policy affects a significant portion of the world’s population; therefore, international opinion of us and our policies should be given attention and be justly considered. This does not mean that the world should be given a vote, as there is value in citizenship, but the world should be given the eyes and ears of the American people.
To do so necessitates two important changes involving the media and the education of our young people. Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed Judy Woodruff’s Master’s Tea, I disagreed with her notion that if the American people want our media to report on more international news, we have to voice our desire for this, raise our concerns with Wall Street, and reflect this in our viewing patterns. There is no doubt that the news has entered a ratings-driven capitalist market and faces extreme time constraints, but it should be the media’s responsibility to bring these important issues to the forefront of the American mindset. If, as Woodruff suggested, the responsibility of the media is to inform and enlighten us as well as be our eyes and ears, then they would do well to cover more international issues.
In terms of educating our young people, there should be more programs that allow high school students to travel abroad in developed and developing regions of the world to help them gain a greater perspective. While initiatives such as People to People’s Student Ambassador Program exist, there should be greater emphasis on them and more opportunities on a national scale to send our young people from all demographics abroad, especially to developing regions, through grants and scholarships. Outside of their comfort zones, students will have a better understanding of other cultures and ways of life.
If America is, as much as it pains me to say, an empire, then we can certainly learn from the mistakes of past empires that often ignored the opinions of those over whom they wielded power. The stigma of international opinion must be broken, and the viewpoints of other countries should be given due consideration — not in an effort to subvert having control of our own destiny, but rather to avail us of alternative perspectives that are sometimes impossible to see from within.
Alicia Washington is a senior in Trumbull College. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.