PORTLAND, ORE. — Does it matter how the rest of the world feels about America? Do we care about patching up relations with countries that don't agree with our international agenda? Or should we let critics like the French stew in their own au jus? Who do they think they are, anyway?
To me, a more compelling question is who do we think WE are? Collectively, that is. As individuals, we don't consider ourselves to be arrogant bullies. A lot of us grew up in households that emphasized traditional American values such as self-reliance, honesty, optimism, and respect for fellow citizens. So why is our image around the world all cockeyed?
The unfortunate truth is that, as a nation, we have a tough time staying true to our personal ideals. I'm reminded of this fact every time I go shopping. The Converse All-Star sneakers my daughter likes are now made in China. A lot of items essential to our daily lives are coming from somewhere else.
I know what the experts say. We little guys don't see the big picture; building economic relationships between countries is good, and those ties promote international cooperation. So I would assume it means China would lean on North Korea to help defuse that crisis, but apparently the Chinese don't see it that way. Oh well, who said free trade was a perfect system?
Defending our freedom also sounds like a good idea, and it, too, has a bigger picture. Freedom to do what? Enjoy the next version of Joe Millionaire? Drive a fancier car? Is America all about pursuing a bumper-sticker philosophy: He who dies with the most toys, wins? I'd like to see a president go on TV and say, "Look, folks, we're in trouble. We need to get back on the track that made us great in the first place. We must learn to do for ourselves again, and stop depending on other countries to support our lifestyle. Stuff may cost more, but self-sufficiency doesn't come cheap. We have to do what's best for the national interest."
What kind of reception would that speech get? Could we make a united effort to survive with less oil, stop pursuing affluence for its own sake, and figure out a way to revive domestic industries so our kids can wear sneakers made in America? Questions like these have a way of getting overwhelmed by the momentum of the status quo. Even now, with war under way, there are people who are proceeding with a business-as-usual attitude, evidently assuming that events around the world will settle down before too long and we can all get back to the good life.
A recent news item reported that Major League Baseball officials are thinking about playing some games in Europe in July of 2004. And yes, said Paul Archey, a senior vice president of Major League Baseball International, France is one of the candidates. I wonder if President Bush will be invited to toss out the first pitch?