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America's Bad name BEcomes an '08 Issue

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Does it matter what anyone else in the world thinks about America?

Some voters feel it matters enough that they are considering this as an issue when deciding whom to choose in the 2008 Presidential election. ("New Hampshire voters worried about U.S. image," Reuters News Service, Oct. 12, 2007, as published at )

The nation's standing abroad is an issue, because after 231 years of building a reputation for genuine democratic government dedicated to the rule of law and equal justice for all - including non-citizens in the United States - America no longer enjoys that moral stature. The administration of George W. Bush has perhaps permanently damaged the moral and political status of the United States of America.

Perceived deception - and, in the view of some, cynical lies and manipulation - to justify the Iraq war before the United Nations as well as at home is perhaps the most glaring of reasons why many believe the Bush Administration undermined the standing of the U.S. worldwide. But there are other actions of that White House which may have caused even greater and more long-lasting harm.

Chief among the positions taken during the Bush Administration that have potential for long-lasting distrust or complete rejection of American political and moral leadership is the "two class" version of law pursued since 2001. There is one class of law, as defined under the U.S. Constitution, now applied only to American citizens, and a separate class of law, not well defined at all, for non-citizens that the government targets in or outside of the U.S.

Previously, the assumption in and out of America was that the U.S. government considered the Constitution and its inherent foundation of universal human rights the basis of official American approaches to criminal and civil law. While in fact that has not been absolutely true, particularly in the shadow world of spy activities as well as in cases involving defined treaty obligations, the broad concept has driven national public policy for a very long time.

The Bush Administration, however, developed a principle of legal exclusion akin to the old "Jim Crow" system of segregation of the races. Since the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the Bush Administration's doctrine of legal process admits that "we" American citizens were (however reluctantly) admitted to possess rights to a speedy trial, statement of charges, public trials, access to legal counsel and other benefits of Constitutional law - but that "they" who were not American citizens owned no rights at all.

This perspective of "us" versus "them" not only came to infect many in American society during the Bush Administration, but also created the climate in which wire tapping practices exploded, abuses of prisoners in American control took place, American agents kidnapped people around the world and sequestered them in hidden dungeons, American mercenaries used in place of regular military forces murdered people with impunity, and American officials or civilians committed other deeds once considered "un-American."

Is it a wonder, then, that today American voters fear for the nation's reputation? Has at last the U.S. public decided that actions by the Bush Administration are not, in fact, taken in the name of America?

And if there is a demonstrable repudiation of the excesses of the Bush Administration, will it make a difference abroad?

The Bush Administration cynically showed that words alone cannot represent the United States - multiple times, President Bush said one thing but acted differently. If voters indeed care about the reputation of the U.S. in the world, then they must press their candidates for deeds of substance that restore American principles of justice for all, human rights, and respect for the dignity of the individual.

U.S. voters may be able to rescue some of America's tattered reputation, but it could take another 231 years to set it straight again. What a lesson - that only eight years of an aggressive, cynical, and manipulative Bush Administration could undo the work of centuries and leave such an enduring stain behind.

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Former newspaper and magazine editor, TV news producer and radio talk show host, the author is now a professional historian and writer.

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