Before the House of
Representatives gets down to the business of the day, members of
Congress are allowed a one-minute speech on a topic of their
choosing. Last week, Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) used her
minute to speak about passports.
She didnt talk
about new passport technology designed to enhance security and
speed ingress for returning citizens. She didnt talk about the
difficulty visitors sometimes encounter applying for visas. She
talked about the sad fact that only about 25% of U.S. citizens hold
I dont know whether
she also mentioned the sadder fact that the percentage of passport
holders is even lower for elected officials in Congress. Her
purpose was to urge her fellow members of the House to support H.R.
327, a resolution cosponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), to
designate an official National Passport Month.
promotes understanding and goodwill, Lee writes on her Web site (http://lee.house.gov). Americans can individually play
a major role toward improving foreign relations by building bridges
and making connections with citizens of other countries.
citizen-as-diplomat language echoes remarks by Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff
at the World Travel and Tourism Councils Global Summit last
But Lee also argues
that traveling Americans are not simply walking, talking
representatives of their country. She suggests that they may
benefit -- and, by extension, the country may benefit -- from what
they learn while abroad. Not having a passport, Lee writes,
prevents (U.S. citizens) from having the kind of lifeenriching
experiences that traveling in other countries offers.
Calif., constituents who urged her to put the resolution forward
are executives at the U.S. headquarters of Lonely Planet, the
Australian-based company thats responsible for one-quarter of all
guidebooks published in the world. They have a rather more blunt
way of expressing Lees sentiment: Do something great for your
country: Leave. Thats the slogan for their National Passport
Campaign (www.gotpassport.com), designed to increase the number
of U.S. passport holders.
When I first saw
the admittedly self-promotional Lonely Planet slogan, it bothered
me, even though Im a practicing international traveler, not because
of its underlying sentiment, but because I worried it would offend
potential converts. I worried it might strike some Americans as
Im concerned that
theres lingering damage from the youre either with us or against us
rhetoric of three years ago. The government-inspired xenophobia of
2002 and 2003 suggested that the French and Germans were our
enemies because they didnt support our invasion of Iraq. But it did
more than rally public opinion against our longtime allies; it
suggested that large portions of the world were hostile and
anti-American -- which ultimately became a self-fulfilling
But Im happy to
report that as I traveled through Italy last week, I did not feel,
as I had on visits to Europe in the previous two years, that
anti-Americanism was still heating up.
It wasnt clear if
that was because our government has cooled its
anti-internationalist rhetoric or because the world has observed
that the majority of the U.S. public no longer approves of the
current administration. Or maybe I happened to meet an especially
gracious collection of Europeans.
But the why may not
be important. Id like to think weve turned a corner as a nation.
Lonely Planets slogan appears to consciously invert the America,
love it or leave it attitude, and I think the campaigns timing may
be good. New regulations requiring passports in the Caribbean, our
governments more balanced approach to international diplomacy and a
less anti-American world should help encourage more citizens to get
If our citizens
discover that America benefits when Americans travel, the next
level in self-promotional sloganeering could well be a paraphrase
of former General Motors chairman Charlie Wilson: Whats good for
the travel industry is good for the country.