Obama and America’s image in the world

politics and culture — By on January 4, 2008 at 3:51 pm

Well, everyone knows now that Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee won their respective party caucuses in Iowa yesterday. The media coverage, in fact, has already moved on to speculation about next week’s New Hampshire primary and the evolving strategies of the top contenders.

There is obviously a long way to go in this race and no guarantee that either Obama or Huckabee will emerge as his party’s nominee. But such a result would be akin to a revolution in U.S. politics. What is also interesting to me, though, is how this is playing out around the world and, specifically, how a potential Obama presidency could perhaps change the world’s image of the U.S.

Andrew Sullivan wrote a very interesting piece for the December issue of The Atlantic that touches on this topic. Sullivan, who is a self-professed conservative and not a liberal Democrat, writes first about Obama’s potential to take America “past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.” He then goes on to discuss Obama’s potential, as well, to transform the country’s relationship with the rest of the world.

The whole story is well worth a read, but here are some key quotes:

The logic behind the candidacy of Barack Obama is not, in the end, about Barack Obama. It has little to do with his policy proposals, which are very close to his Democratic rivals’ and which, with a few exceptions, exist firmly within the conventions of our politics…(T)he fundamental point of his candidacy is that it is happening now. In politics, timing matters. And the most persuasive case for Obama has less to do with him than with the moment he is meeting…

Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one…What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan…

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can…

Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.

What do you think? Is anyone reading this from another country? Could a President Obama actually transform the world’s image of the U.S. simply by getting elected?

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