When Hillary Clinton travels around the world as secretary of state, she is a global celebrity of the first rank. But that’s not how she felt when she went to Burma for the first time in 2011 to meet with the heroic Aung San Suu Kyi. One of the greatest living human-rights campaigners, Suu Kyi had chosen to endure—for the sake of the Burmese people—the daily threat of death and 15 years of house arrest, cut off from her husband and children. “It was, ‘Oh, my God, I cannot believe I am with Aung San Suu Kyi,” Ambassador Melanne Verveer told me of Clinton’s emotion on her two-hour talk with Suu Kyi in the house of her long captivity.
In the middle of self-serving and greedy electioneering, there was such nobility to the U.S. Navy SEALs rescue of a 32-year-old former fourth-grade teacher from the clutches of brutal Somali pirates (one of whom was named Osman Alcohol). It was like hearing from afar the lost chords of “America the Beautiful.” SEAL Team 6 has become a more vivid symbol of the power of the great American idea than positive GDP statistics. Maybe the Chinese are more willing to bully their workforce out of bed in their spartan corporate dorms to crank out iPhone screens through the weary dawn, but can you ever imagine their leader giving an order for a fleet of military helicopters to set off in the dead of night to a heavily armed African hellhole and snatch back an endangered young do-gooder?
Some of the more earnest members of the 1 percent are flocking to Davos this week, expecting to hear from IMF director Christine Lagarde and do-gooder money machine George Soros, among other big shots currently trying to save the world. Both of them will tell you that while we here are obsessed with such daft (albeit deliciously entertaining) distractions as whether or not Newt Gingrich asked his vengeful ex-wife for an open marriage, the global economic crisis is gaining in a severity that could suck the life out of the U.S. recovery. Things ought to be scary enough to make us all crave the competent technocrat who turned around a 2002 Winter Olympics deficit of $300 million to a $100 million profit.