Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 18:38 | SYDNEY
Friday 20 Jul 2018 | 18:38 | SYDNEY

Not only in America


Michael Fullilove


25 March 2008 16:25

Notwithstanding my recent praise of Senator Barack Obama’s speech in Philadelphia, I would raise an objection to one element of the address. Obama may not be, as he said, ‘the most conventional candidate’, but he is conventional in one sense: his claim that ‘in no other country on Earth is my story even possible’.

It seems that every candidate for elective office in America has to claim his or her career could have occurred ‘only in America’. (The argument has the dual effect of demonstrating love of country and drawing attention to the candidate’s log cabin origins). Only in America could a poor boy from a town called Hope aspire to the highest office in the land; only in America could a Jewish politician receive his party’s nomination for Vice President; and on and on. In fact, these kinds of things happen in other countries too. I know plenty of first and second generation immigrants sitting in Australian parliaments; our deputy prime minister is a woman and one of our most senior ministers is a gay woman of Chinese heritage. The French recently installed a man with a Hungarian name in the Élysée Palace. New Zealand’s foreign minister is a Maori. Golda Meir was born in the Ukraine and Canada’s Governor-General hails from Haiti. Furthermore, in most of these countries it is possible for a first generation immigrant to aspire to hold any political job, whereas Article II of the US Constitution provides that only ‘natural born citizens’ are eligible to be president.

Obama’s life story is remarkable by any measure, and America’s history as a great immigrant nation is one of the country’s most attractive features. But it is past time for Americans to get over the misconception that they have a monopoly on social mobility.