GLOBAL STANDING AND PRESTIGE MATTER…. The New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof shares an anecdote in his column today about a conversation he had the other day with a friend in Beijing about Barack Obama. She was amazed to hear that Obama is leading in the polls because “surely a black man couldn’t become president of the United States.” As she perceives America, African Americans are primarily “janitors and laborers.”

Kristof explained that black people hold “all kinds of jobs,” and Obama appears well positioned. The woman in Beijing wondered aloud whether white Americans would tolerate this. Kristof said, “If Obama is elected, it’ll be because white people voted for him.”

The friend in Beijing, after a long pause, responded, “Unbelievable! What an amazing country!”

It’s a reminder of a point Jonathan Alter emphasized in the new issue of the Washington Monthly — there’s a lot at stake in this election, and “the restoration of our image in the world” shouldn’t be overlooked.

Our allies and their people understand the stakes. That’s why 200,000 well-wishers showed up to hear Obama in Berlin in July. I was there, and met Germans who had organized Obama clubs in their suburban towns. They wore “Obama Tsunami” T-shirts. Why? Partly because he’s cool, but mostly because they know that only Obama has a chance — just a chance — to lead again as the Americans did for so many years. The Germans I talked to ached for it.

McCain would try to lead, too, but in a twentieth-century way that would attract few followers. American prestige would remain at its current low level — or, if he indulged his instinct for saber rattling, it would sink further. By the time another president who could inspire the world came along, China would be nearly the largest economy on earth and no doubt determined to impose its values on at least some parts of the world. The window for restoring American prestige is very short.

As a reminder, Alter’s piece is in the new issue, which we’d like to send you a free copy of. It’s easy to get this free, no-obligation issue in your hands. Just follow the link. If you want to subscribe after receiving it, you may do so for the very special rate of only $19.95 for one year. If not, the issue is still yours.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.