As I listen to President Obama roll out his new immigration policy, it feels good to be an American. The recent explosion of civil rights – gender, race, sexual, and now the rights of resident aliens – is a breath of fresh air. This country is finally regaining its purchase as a democratic republic to be emulated because of its values and not simply a nation to be feared because of its strength.
In foreign policy, this is no small advantage. In 1939, the Roosevelt state department found it difficult to criticize Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews when the American South was lynching black Americans. More recently, foreign powers would find it amusing when we criticized border conflicts and the treatment of immigrants in other regions, when we made no attempt to address our own outdated and unfair immigration policy. Lastly, many of the world’s leaders continue to question the civilized nature of an American society that consumes the greatest percentage of illegal drugs and permits gun mayhem to run riot.
The importance of leading by example can never be overstated. The next test for the president and our fractious political leadership will be to show the world a new paradigm for American capitalism that will provide a beacon to the world for the next century. This new model will not sit well with white males who were far and away the primary beneficiaries of the old economic system. But as demographics change, policies change, providing a more fertile ground for equality in America.
Like civil rights, the Obama-led fiscal and monetary explosion will broaden participation across class and gender lines to ensure greater sharing of limited resources. Being the last democratic nation to adopt universal health care is a start. Adopting progressive revenue and education policies must follow. As our country settles down and narrows the gap between rich and poor, it will begin to feel more confident and secure. Perhaps at that juncture, the drug and gun issues will be resolved as well.