One of the reasons I have supported Obama is that the way the United States is viewed by the world has deteriorated badly since Bush took office. Hell, a frat-boy leader who likes to play cowboy and unilaterally invade other nations for no good reason can’t be good for our nation’s image.
America’s global image is in the crapper. Last year, the BBC World Service conducted a poll of over 26,000 individuals in the world’s 25 largest countries and found that more than 52 percent thought the U.S. had a “mostly negative” influence on the world. Fifty-three percent of respondents to a survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs felt America could “not be trusted.”
Which means that, on top of everything else it represents, the current presidential election is something like an ad agency review — a chance to put a set of potential stewards for “Brand America” through their paces, to see the creative and strategic directions in which they’d take our product.
“From Day One, Obama was talking about how we have to think outside of the Beltway box — how we need to enact positive change in a fresh way,” says Siegel + Gale’s Alan Siegel. “His brand is about uplift, it’s about humanity; he uses the pronoun ‘we’ so naturally. People knock him for style over substance, but the truth is that he just has a tremendous ability to cut through the noise. He’s distilled his brand proposition into a single theme, ‘authentic change,’ and it has resonated with people both here and abroad.”
While change — the notion of a break with the past — is central to Obama’s brand essence, the other values he incorporates are no less important. “Obama represents a lot of what America stands for, at its best: Diversity, opportunity, community,” says Dick Martin. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when asked about his qualifications, he talks about being a community organizer; he’s emphasizing that his experience is in bringing people together. I think, strictly from the point of view of changing attitudes towards America around the world, electing him is the most powerful thing we could do. He’s the embodiment of the American dream. Having him as president would say to the rest of the world that America has renewed its promise.”
There’s another factor that Obama has in his favor, which no other candidate this cycle — or, for that matter, in American history — can lay claim to, and it might be summed up as “trade dress.” His name, his appearance, his parentage: All of these are factors that have an immediate, visceral impact, even to those who know nothing else about him. Pundit Andrew Sullivan, guesting on “The Colbert Report,” summed it up as follows: “Just show the face of Barack Obama on television to some teenager in Lahore, Pakistan, who has a vision of America that’s been determined by the Bush-Cheney years, and suddenly, more than any words, his opinion and views of this country will change.”
It might be a bit trite at this point, but I do believe that at the moment, Barack Obama is sworn in, the image the world has of the United States will change for the better.
And, beyond that, I think his experience, background, and temperament will make him one hell of a president.
More from the Salon article:
For Obama, this advantage is almost unassailable. Short of announcing Tiger Woods as a running mate, none of his rivals has a way to force a recalibration of America’s image through peripheral attributes alone. It’s a big reason why he’s captivated global attention, to an extent that Americans might not even be aware. Indeed, the very things that snipers from the right have used to cast doubt on Obama’s red-white-and-blue propers — his schoolboy years in Indonesia, his refusal to engage in acts of symbolic patriotism, his stated willingness to sit down and engage with enemy world leaders, even the Drudge-distributed image of Obama in native Somali garb — these are the things that have the world trembling with anticipation over an Obama victory in November.
Last week I got a call from my friend Manuel in Argentina. We’re trying to organize a trip later this year, so I wasn’t surprised to get his call. What did surprise me is how closely he’s following this election (he’s kind of a center-left voter in Argentina — he hates Bush and US policies, but doesn’t think the US is evil). He knew what states Obama had won and the importance of Texas and Ohio for Obama’s nomination and he mocked my concern that Hillary still might be able to take the nomination from Barack. He’s following the Democratic race very closely and he’s probably pretty typical of Argentine voters.
So yes, the rest of the globe is following this election more closely than I think we know.