As the holidays appear further in our rearview mirror and the Christmas songs no longer play for 24 hours a day on the radio, I was reflecting on the perennial Christmas movie favorite, It's a Wonderful Life, and the lessons that it may have for President Obama and the United States' place in the world, as well as how we feel about ourselves.
In this Jimmy Stewart classic, the main character, George Bailey, who has lived a good but frustrated life, comes to a key crossroads in his life. Unusual circumstances, misfortune, pressures, and unfulfilled dreams accumulate so heavily that he ends up standing on a bridge in the mythic small town of Bedford Falls and contemplates suicide. As he does, the words of awful Mr. Potter ring in his ears: "George, you're worth more dead than alive."
At this point in the movie a guardian angel appears and intercedes in the form of a cute and frumpy old man named Clarence. Clarence then proceeds to show what George Bailey's world would be like if he had never been born. All the good George had done would have never occurred, and the town and his family and friends, he now sees, would have been much worse off if he hadn't lived.
As President Obama has ventured on the world stage, traveling internationally more than any other president in his first year, he has often communicated in apologetic terms and indulged in a bit of self-flagellation of America. He has pointed out, directly or indirectly, many of America's wrongs.
Has this world apology tour and annunciation of mistakes made us feel better about ourselves at a time we need optimism? Has it made us safer or caused terrorists internationally to want to attack us less? Are foreign countries cooperating more with us on key issues they didn't before? The answer to each of these is a resounding no!
The president should take a hint from the Christmas movie classic as he enters his second year and behave a little more like the guardian angel Clarence. It is time for President Obama to turn from the negativity of Mr. Potter, who was factually correct in one aspect of George's life, and begin to convey a positive vision in our foreign policy. Instead of communicating our errors, he might be better off showing American citizens and the world all the good America has done and continues to do for citizens of this planet.
The list of good is endless: from stopping dictators, to feeding the world, to invention after invention which has improved people's lives, to investments in human health like trying to stop the awful, devastating plague of AIDS. No other country on Earth has done more for other countries than America. It has been this way since the beginning and the primary motivation has been because we believed it the right thing to do and not out of self-interest.
In hearing this from our president, maybe we as Americans and the rest of the world could get a vision of what things would be like if the United States had never come to be. Yes, we as a country have done horrible wrongs and made terrible mistakes, but now is a time for us to feel better about ourselves and for the world to see that we stand tall as agents for good. And, Mr. President, wasn't there a candidate in 2008 whose mantra was a four letter word that kids of all ages can use?
And this hope and optimism may fill us at a time we feel down and don't know our way. In private polling I have been involved with, citizen's are just plain worn out by the bad, and have what I would call "problem fatigue." American's feel lost and anxious at this dark moment, and today might be a good time to gather us all around the campfire and recant stories of our goodness. And then like George we can believe we lived a wonderful life, and again have the courage to face the tough times ahead with vigor and excitement in our steps. Its worth a shot, even it's a lesson from a Frank Capra movie.