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I Have Been There, and I Have Seen It

During the presidential debate last night, I realized that the reason Sarah Palin stuck so long with the story that she has foreign policy experience because she can see Russia is because that claim counts with John McCain. Sure, McCain’ emphasis on travel is a rhetorical representation of his deep experience, but I believe his words reach deeper than that: McCain believes that to witness a region in person is the most important way to locate his positions on policy. So he goes to Iraq, walks through an empty neighborhood in a Kevlar jacket, talks to General Petraus, and witnesses a reenlistment ceremony, and that becomes the foundation of his Iraq policy. So he goes to Georgia and talks with Sakashvili and walks the hills of eastern Europe, and that undergirds his whole-hog support for all regions that have broken away from the former Soviet empire. So he asserts that Obama’s not having traveled much is a character flaw that reflects poorly on Obama’s ability to understand the world. The argument can be compelling, but it is also limiting: his personal experience is his most compelling argument in favor of himself, but it severely limits his perspective. One gets the impression that, as experienced as he is, McCain’s world is not much bigger than himself.

It would be a mistake to reject outright the value of travel and personal witness, but I would like to hear an argument explaining why either should represent the best way to make policy about the world.

 

Comments

Never mind the best way. I’d settle for reasonable.

is this just another one of the many reasons why he is four more years of bush?

in that, for bush meeting a person is knowing the person… the eyes being the window to the soul.

Or the window to… the KGB!

I assume travel is another way for McCain to distinguish himself from Bush, not just Obama.
However, in his time as senator, Obama’s traveled to a lot more countries than most (senators or constituents), so I’m not sure the distinction even holds.
As for my own response, I think face-to-face contact is very important, but every time McCain highlighted his years of experience & many opportunities to travel, it just reminded me of how freaking old he is.
Side note: Viv just pointed to an Obama ad on another website and cried excitedly, “Papa!”

There are, of course, lots of arguments for how travel makes for a better understanding of the world, cosmopolitanism to cite one example. These don’t usually mount defenses of travel as necessary to good policy. Instead, they tend to focus on issues of character, and this is what I think McCain’s really up to: He’s trying to suggest that Obama is an ideologue, not responsive to reality (think of that nasty comparison to Bush).

5: A colleague put it this way: “You can learn a lot about a place by being there in person, but it’s much easier to get around if you know the map.”