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Largely, this election cycle has brimmed with historic possibilities. The first plausible female president lost the Democratic Primary to the first plausible African-American. Now, Obama faces off against McCain, who, if elected, would become the oldest first-term president. It kind of makes one dizzy to think about it, but there’s more. McCain also has the possibility of becoming the first president to have been born on foreign soil.

McCain hails from what some would call “A Third Culture.” That is, as a child of a member of the Armed Services, he was born in the Panama Canal Zone. Technically, that’s not foreign soil, even though the United States gave the Panama Canal back to Panama. Any military or diplomatic piece of property, a consul, an embassy, or an military installation, qualifies as “American Soil,” as host-nation laws do not apply there and the host-nation’s police force has no jurisdiction there. Technically, the canal zone, when the stars and stripes flew over it, had a different legal/territorial distinction, but going further on that would be splitting hairs. The point is largely thus: McCain spent parts of his childhood in places other than the continental United States or Hawaii.

So, for the first time in my life, I can actually say I have something culturally in common with both presidential candidates. I too am a “third culture kid,” having been born on an air force base in Germany and had an international upbringing. And so, that brings me to Barack Obama.

Technically, Obama doesn’t fit the classic definition of “overseas brat,” but he too knows what it’s like to grow up in the margins between other people’s cultures. His father was a Kenyan and his mother hailed from Kansas, placing him in an awkward racial in-between. Even further, he also spent parts of his childhood, overseas in Indonesia. Basically, in my book, that qualifies Obama as a “third culture kid.”

And so, therein is the interesting wrinkle to this historic election, one that’s riddled with new precedents, either way. In one respect, in 2009, Americans will have voted the first “Third Culture President” into the Oval Office.


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