Ever since the bad old days of the Cold War, when a balance of terror kept the most powerful nations on Earth from using their nuclear stockpiles to destroy each other and, ultimately, the whole freaking planet, the United States has bestowed upon its President an honorary title beyond all his official ones: The Leader of the Free World.
Barack Obama in Berlin:
The Free World meets its next Leader
From this Flickr slideshow on Barack Obama's site
I've always felt it was a tad ironic that the Free World never got any say in who their leader should be, but had to accept whoever the voters in the U.S. (or, in 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court) chose for them. The bare-faced criminal Nixon, the stumblebum Ford, the honest but chronically depressing Carter, the reckless, demented "amiable dunce" Reagan, Father of the Worst President in History George Bush the Elder, the priapic satyromaniac Clinton...am I missing anyone?
A few months ago, back when the last Republican challenger but one had dropped out of the race and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were busy directing all of their energies at defeating each other, John McCain took a little trip. A world tour of sorts. Hey, he's a Senator, it's one of the things he's supposed to do. Funny thing is, it looked an awful lot like a campaign trip, even though it was being paid for by the U.S. taxpayers. It looked like McCain was strutting around saying Look at me, don't I look Presidential? While those two are still over there squabbling over a few pissant states I couldn't care less about?
This is not the Leader of the Free World.
But maybe that was just my perception of events.
Fast forward to the present, or at least the recent past. After (but not as a consequence of) much taunting by McCain, Barack Obama took a little tour of his own. Republicans waited with bated breath: surely this stripling, this callow youth, this inexperienced and naive speechifier would fall flat on his face when he encountered the Big Wide World. And he would return to to the shores of the United States, bruised and humiliated and completely thrown off his game.
But that didn't happen. The trip was a smashing success. Obama the person struck a chord with a global community anxiously waiting for a positive change of leadership in the United States. He spoke, and they responded.
OK, the Republicans said, fine, and turned to Plan B from the Book of Rove. Obama is too popular in the rest of the world. What's his game? Is he trying to win the Berlin electoral votes maybe? What we want is a President who the rest of the world fears and respects - or failing that, just fears. What's with this touchy-feely celebrity crap?
"Obama: Is he ready to lead?" The answer to that is: Hell, yes.
(Britney Spears and Paris Hilton? Mr. McCain, your ads stink of desperation. Or are you looking to trade in your current wife for a younger model? Again?)
Yes, Obama is ready to lead. The United States is ready to have him be its leader. And if the Free World got a say in who their Leader might be, I think a lot of them would choose Obama, too. Come next January, the entire Free World - the United States included - will be thrilled to see Barack Obama take on the mantle of Leader of the Free World.