"Show us your papers" has become the divisive de facto shorthand for critics of humane immigration policies, and in recent years for critics of our current president too. (In case you haven't heard, apparently some people believe President Obama may not have been born in this country.) But I'd like to suggest that perhaps they and the rest of us should consider asking candidates for office to "Show us your passport" instead.
I began thinking about this after a friend sent me an article that confirmed that only 30% of Americans actually own a passport. Based on those stats it dawned on me that there are likely plenty of elected officials who have never set foot outside of this country. Sarah Palin didn't obtain a passport until 2006, or ten years after she became a mayor and two years before she could have become the Vice President of the United States. This means that our country was ThisClose to having an unofficial global ambassador to the rest of the world who never saw fit to leave the country until two years before it was to become one of her job requirements.
Which raises an interesting question.
There are only a few requirements someone must meet in order to run for President of the United States. Among them: Candidates must be 35-years-old, and you may have heard that you must also be born in this country, and you have to prove that you've actually lived here at least 14 years. But what if candidates for president were not only required to show proof that they were born in this country and have lived in this country but that they have actually visited other countries too?
After reading the startling statistic on how few Americans hold passports (and for the record I do hold one and have used it many times) a lot of things suddenly began to make sense to me. For instance, I now understand how it's possible that only 37% of 18- to 24-year-olds can find Iraq on a map -- this despite our on the ground presence there for nearly a decade. (But then again the same National Geographic study found that only 50% of the same 18- to 24-year-olds could identify New York on a map and in the context of this discussion I can't tell if that's good news or worse news.)
Now in all fairness geography can be tough. After all, how many of us actually have the entire globe memorized? I certainly don't. So how about an easy one, such as who did our country declare independence from?
But apparently that one's not easy enough for some of us. According to a Marist poll 26% of Americans don't know what country our country declared Independence from while 6% were unsure that we fought a war for independence at all.
I wish I were making this up but I'm not.
As I just mentioned on The Dylan Ratigan Show, polls like these make for a few laughs when we want to gloat about the fact that even if we're not smarter than a 5th grader at least we're still smarter than a lot of our neighbors. But there are larger implications. In case you haven't heard Americans don't exactly have the best reputation internationally, and part of this is due to our image as a country that believes the world revolves around us. "Arrogance" was the word used to describe Americans by a plurality of those in a recent poll conducted in China. But those who had actually lived here or visited also used words like "creative" to describe us. Which is why international travel is so important. It allows us to learn about each other's cultures and to start seeing one another as people not just as some stereotype that we've seen on TV. (It also can be done on a budget or as my travel buddy Sara likes to say "for the cost of a flatscreen TV." Click here to see some budget websites for traveling abroad.)
But it also gives us a greater incentive to be invested in the decisions our leaders make, because it gives us an opportunity to see firsthand how their decisions not only affect the citizens of this country but the citizens of the world. Which is why I think that having experience traveling abroad should be mandatory for anyone running for president or anyone serious about being a leader on the federal level at all. Because if you're looking to become the leader of the free world, you should probably be interested in actually seeing the world, if for no other reason than the fact that travel is kind of an important part of the job of being president, as is knowing how to effectively navigate relationships across culture lines.
Yet surprisingly displaying knowledge and curiosity of the global stage is not really used as a litmus test to judge one's fitness for the office of president, the way characteristics like religion or marital status are; despite the fact that this really is one of the most important qualities for our Commander-in-Chief.
While we all know personal details like which presidents have been caught having affairs, how many of us know which ones could actually speak a foreign language? (The answer: very few.) Or which ones have spent any time living abroad? (Even fewer. Click here to see which ones.) My point is that as our country's primary global ambassador, shouldn't we want to elect leaders who actually want to be global, not just those who are comfortable here in their own backyard?
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey was proud of the fact that he'd left this country only once, late in life, and that he had no plans of leaving again. This sounds like precisely the kind of person we want crafting legislation that impacts international policy. (Yes that was sarcasm.)
But then again two-thirds of the American population appear to be about as interested in the rest of the world as Palin and Armey. I guess that explains the outcome of some of our elections and the questionable international policy that often follows.
This post originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.