11 September 2012

The Traveler's President

Photo Credit: Salon.com (9/10/2012)
Am I better off today than I was four years ago? Hell, yes. At least when it comes to traveling.

As an American traveler during the George W. Bush Administration I faced constant complaining from the international community. "How could you have elected him?" people I met hissed at me, incredulously. "I didn't," I'd whine. "In fact, we didn't." I'd apologize, hang my head, wish I spoke another language. Even in the wake of 9/11, Bush managed to decimate world sympathy.

Traveling in Sikkim a group of Russians berated me over Bush. "I did not personally install him as president," I shouted back. "I don't like him any more than you do." Earlier in my trip an elderly man had told me that the last good president the U.S. elected was John F. Kennedy. "That's right," I agreed. "And look what happened to him." Who would dare even try to be a good president knowing the fate that awaits such idealism?

"We hate George Bush, but we love Americans." I heard that a lot in Kashmir, a region of the world intimately familiar with terrorism and its consequences. "Thank you," I'd mutter, grateful to be recognized as a person who had more in common with Kashmiris than Bush republicans. Eventually I learned to respond to that most uncomfortable of questions—Where are you from?—with lies. "Canada." Or if the questioner suggested I was from say, England or Australia, I'd readily agree and quickly change the subject.

Lying doesn't work, however, when an Indian army border patrol guy asks where you're from while holding your passport. That's when I discovered San Francisco is viewed as its own little realm by the international community, a place so wonderful and magical even George W. Bush couldn't destroy its reputation abroad. "San Francisco, show us your Golden Gate," the army officer crooned at me. No one doesn't love San Francisco. Hailing from there, I realized, took the sting out of being an American. Having a San Francisco address made international travel easy.

And so does Barrack Obama.

I happened to be in Antibes, France, during the 2008 election (I'd voted early via absentee ballot). When McCain conceded, the streets of that seaside town, sleepy during the off season, burst into an enormous rain-soaked party. The French were elated.

The next day, something even more unlikely than French people seeming happy occurred. As an American, I was no longer persona non grata. I no longer faced derision simply for being from the U.S. despite dressing in jeans and running shoes and a pale yellow T-shirt that implored, "Be Happy!" Being a citizen of the country that had just elected Barrack Obama as president made me instantly likable.

Last year in Bali, locals frequently quizzed me about my feelings for Obama, watching me closely for my reaction. "Love him," I'd proclaim as they nodded and smiled in agreement. Osama Bin Laden was allegedly executed while I was living in Bali. The Balinese, famously gentle and serene, celebrated. Obama gave them a sense of justice and closure for the 2002 and 2005 bombings in Kuta.

Economically I'm worse off today than I was the day Bush left office. I still blame Bush, even though I don't think Obama is a particularly effective president. I can't think of one single issue that has moved forward in any meaningful way during the past four years. Still, I'm totally gonna vote for Obama again.

I don't think any man or woman capable of being elected president of the U.S. will make life better, more prosperous or healthier for the middle class. No matter who is elected this fall, the wealthy will come out on top and the middle class will be further squeezed. It's the way the wealthy want things: two classes, rich and poor. I accept that. There is only one area where the president of my country has a direct impact on my life and that is when it comes to how the rest of the world views him or her.

I'm a traveler and Barrack Obama is a damn good president for Americans who enjoy wandering around the world.



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