Linda, I wanted to bring up a few different points about Obama’s speech. Obama said he spoke “as a citizen — as a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world.” Later in his remarks Obama declared that the “burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together.”
This is a rather odd choice of words. To be a citizen means to be a member of a sovereign nation to which one owes allegiance and through which come certain rights, duties, and responsibilities. To say that he is both a citizen of America and a citizen of the world implies equal rank between the two; and to then say that the “burdens of global citizenship” is what binds us together merely underscores the point.
This kind of rhetoric is, at best, sloppy.
Those of us who are Americans are not “citizens of the world”; our first loyalty is to this country. Our servicemen and -women do not put on a uniform and fight and sometimes die on behalf of “the world”; they fight and die on behalf of the United States. When John McCain was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and tortured, it was not because he was a “citizen of the world”; it was because he was an American citizen fighting on behalf of his country. Nor do we pledge allegiance to “the world”; we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands. Our founders did not mutually pledge to one another their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor on behalf of a “world declaration”; they did so on behalf of declaration of independence of a particular nation, with a particular creed and a set of particular principles. And if Senator Obama becomes president, he will swear to protect and uphold and defend the American Constitution, not a “Constitution of the world.”
The best we can hope for is that Obama’s words shows a deep confusion about what true citizenship is and ought to be. One simply cannot expect people to declare their citizenship for, and pledge their allegiance and lives to, “the world,” which (like that “world organization,” the United Nations) happens to include regimes like North Korea, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Sudan, China, and Zimbabwe, to name just a few.
We are products of a nation which, in the case of America, is founded on a set of ideas and ideals which have often put it at odds with, and even in conflict with, other nations in the world. We believe all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; much of the rest of the world does not. Are we supposed to pledge equal loyalty to both beliefs?
Obama, we can safely assume, doesn’t think so; after all, in his speech he argued for defending human rights against repressive regimes. But this simply highlights the confusion of Obama’s argument. If the world is still divided between those advocating liberty and those imposing tyranny, why ought we to declare we are “citizens of the world”? Citizenship is obviously a profoundly different thing than being part of the world or a member of the human race; one might hope a teacher in constitutional law would understand the distinction.
In his speech Senator Obama was obviously trying to play off the words of President Kennedy when, during his remarkable and moving address in Berlin in 1963, Kennedy said, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin, and therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner.’”
But of course in his speech Kennedy was pledging America’s full support, including military support, to West Berlin and linking us to it in the most meaningful way possible. At the time, West Berlin was a defended island of freedom within the Communist world. West Berlin, Kennedy was saying, is an extension of America, and as such an attack on it would be considered an attack on us. The whole point of the Berlin speech was to draw a sharp distinction between the free world and the Communist world, not to conflate the two or to pretend that citizenship to West Berlin was synonymous with citizenship to East Berlin.
Loyalty to and love for our country is among the most noble sentiments humans can possess; it is what citizenship, at its deepest level, is about. So to implicitly assert, as Obama did in parts of his speech in Berlin, that we can replicate those same sentiments on behalf of “the world” is fundamentally at odds with human experience and diminishes what authentic citizenship truly is. What Obama said in Berlin, then, was on one level silly; on another, more fundamental level, it was — if his words are to be taken seriously — dangerous. Let’s hope that in this instance, as in other instances, Barack Obama’s words simply aren’t serious.