I'd been meaning to write about this since last week, but hadn't had the chance. Last Wednesday, the New York Times published an article about the American representatives at the World Bridge Championships who held up a small sign at the awards dinner that read, "We did not vote for Bush." The photograph of the woman holding up the sign, along with her teammates, all smiling broadly, brought out the typical hysterical overreaction from the right, with accusations of "treason" and "sedition." And while that overreaction might be worth a blog post in and of itself (which I don't expect to write), what I wanted to focus on was the issue of public diplomacy among citizens overseas.
As an expatriate who's lived in Asia for a long time now (six years and counting), this is an issue that I'm rather familiar with. Now, these women at the Bridge tournament were not expatriates, but they were overseas, representing our country. Regardless of whether we think of ourselves as "ambassadors" for our country when we travel abroad, we in fact are.
Now, as an unofficial "ambassador" for their country, holding up that sign was in poor taste, even though the team's captain, Gail Greenberg, said in the NYT article that the sign was "...a spontaneous gesture, 'a moment of levity...'" I've no doubt that it was. I can also sympathize with the women. In situations like this, when you're overseas and your government isn't behaving normally, it's quite common for others to ask for your opinion. "What's going on over there?" Been there, done that...lots of times. And in private, I'll be very blunt with my criticisms about the U.S. (Ask Milady. ;) ) Those of us who lived in Arizona during the turmoil of the Evan Mecham administration (January 1987 - April 1988) know all too well what it's like to have a daft, unpopular government embarrassing the rest of the populace. Stories abounded in the newspapers at the time of Arizonans going out of state and having people ask them, "Just what the f*** is going on in Arizona?" It's the same situation now with the Bush administration. As the NYT wrote,
Ms. Greenberg said she decided to put up the sign in response to questions from players from other countries about American interrogation techniques, the war in Iraq and other foreign policy issues.
"There was a lot of anti-Bush feeling, questioning of our Iraq policy and about torture," Ms. Greenberg said. "I can’t tell you it was an overwhelming amount, but there were several specific comments, and there wasn’t the same warmth you usually feel at these events."
"What we were trying to say, not to Americans but to our friends from other countries, was that we understand that they are questioning and critical of what our country is doing these days, and we want you to know that we, too, are critical..."
I've no problem with that; as far as I'm concerned, let people around the world know that you're unhappy with the way the United States is being governed at this time. In a country that prides itself on free speech, that's neither treason nor sedition. As an "ambassador" for your country, people will trust you and your opinions more for being truly "fair and balanced," instead of toeing the line like some party apparatchik. People around the world can see through the BS just as well as anyone else. But do everyone a favor and leave the signs at home.
By the way, I didn't vote for Bush (or Mecham) either.