Questions from Abroad

In the last week, I’ve spent as much time answering questions from outside the U.

In the last week, I’ve spent as much time answering questions from outside the U.S. as I have from in. The questions from foreign press and foreign political junkies are vastly different than what we discuss here in America.I’ve found the questioners to be well informed, not only about our political scene today but also about the finer points of the Electoral College and Senate rules governing the filibuster. For Europeans and Latin Americans--even the Chinese-- to understand our Constitution, is an impressive feat that not many of us can match.By comparison, ask anyone in downtown Washington the capitol of Germany or the president of Mexico and you would mostly get blank stares. We are a country of terrible geographers. Eight years ago, George W. Bush took some heat for not being able to name the leaders of Chechnya, Taiwan, India and Pakistan. Think he’s an idiot or not, most Americans can do no better.The most frequent question I’m asked--especially by Europeans--is whether Americans are concerned for President-elect Barack Obama’s safety. I suppose the two years of likening the man to J.F.K., Jesus and the Greek gods did bring up some thoughts about the man’s mortality. I can only speak for the political professional community, but we are far less concerned for Obama’s safety than foreigners. Another common line of questioning is about media bias. These are not easy questions to answer. Is our media fair? If our media is supposed to be unbiased what the heck are newspaper endorsements about? Can’t the publisher just tell his reporters what to write? These are not easy questions to answer, especially in 90 seconds on live TV.Amazingly, most foreign political junkies I’ve spoken with understand our Electoral College. I come to meetings prepared to explain how Barack Obama could win the popular vote by a few million and still walk away from Election Day with 265 electoral votes, and lose an election. But I haven’t yet had to explain it because someone actually taught them this in grade school.Americans are good at winning elections. We understand campaign technology, campaign tactics and strategy better than anyone in the world. But until we can understand geography as well as our international friends, we should not expect to be more than occasional players in campaigns around the world.Jordan Lieberman is publisher of Politics magazine.  

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