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 passports.

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.

Traveling abroad promotes understanding and goodwill, Lee writes on her Web site ( Americans can individually play a major role toward improving foreign relations by building bridges and making connections with citizens of other countries.

This 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 month.

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.

The Oakland, 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 (, 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 unpatriotic.

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 prophesy.

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 passports.

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.


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