I am in the somewhat unusual position of having a potential right to a vote in the U.S. Presidential election which I have not taken up. In 1934, as a move towards gender equality, President Roosevelt gave American women the right to retain their citizenship if they married a foreigner. My mother had married an Englishman in 1920, had forfeited her citizenship and was in due course able to regain it. In 1978, she died as a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom; in her later years she used to travel to the United States on her American passport.
In 1981 I discussed with the U.S. Embassy in London my own possible citizenship. A consular official very kindly explained to me that the citizenship was not retrospectively available to children born before 1934. “If you were born after 1934, or were illegitimate, you would be entitled to American citizenship.” In 1992 Congress passed a citizenship law which rectified this, but I did not come to hear of it until a year or two ago. I have not taken up the offer so far, though I probably would have done so if I had been working in America. However, it has given me a somewhat different view of the Presidential race. If I had chosen to take up my right, I could be a voter.
In fact, I still take an Anglo-American point of view. I have considerable admiration for both the candidates, or assumed candidates. I have met Senator McCain and was much taken by his personal courage and independence of mind. I would certainly have liked him to have been the Republican candidate in the 2000 election. I think he would have been a better President than George Bush, with a much greater understanding of the intricate world in which Bush has been an awkward and naïve President, though successful at achieving re-election. I am older than Senator McCain, and have been writing about Presidents since the late Truman years, in one place or another. I regard Senator McCain as a very promising young man, and would be more than happy to see him elected President. Indeed I would probably vote for him, if I had claimed my vote, if only out of loyalty to our generation. He has the advantage – and the handicap – of experience of the world of power.
Yet I see great advantages in Senator Obama. In terms of experience of international affairs he obviously ranks below John McCain. But that may be an advantage in its own way. He was still a student when the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War came to an end. But that means that he is relatively free of the Cold War assumptions. The dynastic period of U.S. politics, Bush – Clinton – Clinton – Bush – Bush has a consistency of outlook which stretches from 1988 to 2008 – a period of twenty years. The Democratic primaries have only narrowly rejected a continuation of the dynastic period which has severed this continuity. Senator McCain offers new thought, new policy, because he is an independent minded man. Senator Obama offers it partly because he is outside the establishment because of his race, and partly because he is a generation younger. He would not want to be an imperial President, because he has not the same historic experience as the dynastic Presidents.
At all events, I am proud of my potential citizenship even if I have not adopted it. The American system has produced two admirable candidates – the strongest pair since Adlai Stevenson ran against President Eisenhower in the 1950s.
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