ACCUMULATING PERIPHERALS


Oh My God! The World is Black! by mattsteinglass
April 18, 2007, 1:29 pm
Filed under: Africa, United States

Thomas Friedman has a pretty good piece today on the fact that Barack Obama is the only candidate who could singlehandedly change the global perception of the United States simply by virtue of being who he is. This is an insight that’s hardly original to Friedman, but the fact that Friedman embraces it is pretty significant: it signals the entry of this meme into legitimate, mainstream inside-the-Beltway punditocratic conventional wisdom. It’s significant to see Friedman writing this:

It seems to me that the strongest case one could make for an Obama presidency right now is rarely articulated: it is his potential to repair the broken relationship between America and the world. As I travel around, I have never seen a president and a vice president more disliked in more places than George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

Again, this is pretty obvious stuff, and Friedman knows it’s obvious; but it is important to acknowledge the unpopularity of an American president abroad as a foreign affairs and security concern. Friedman’s implication that Obama’s potential popularity would make the US safer and more powerful may serve to blunt the edge of the ongoing carping that he lacks “experience” on “national security”. A Thomas Friedman seal of approval is pretty useful in that regard.

Of course, what Friedman doesn’t mention — what few commentators would mention — is that one major reason an Obama presidency would help change America’s image abroad is that he’s black. The point here is not that the US should elect a person of color because most of the world has dark skin pigmentation and it will make us more popular. The point is that the US boasts of itself as a country where the color of one’s skin does not matter — and yet its leaders always seem to be white. That feeds into the terribly damaging global sense that the US is a hypocritical country, a country that is not to be trusted in the way it talks about itself. (As Friedman notes, when the US serves up human rights concerns abroad these days, it gets back a giant forehand smash of “Abu Ghraibs” and “Guantanamos”.) It’s fatal to be known as a hypocrite and a liar; it kills public diplomacy dead. One thing the US has got to start doing is living up to some of the pledges it has made to the world. And there is no better, more convincing argument that the US is what it says it is, than for Barack Obama to win a presidential election.

Not that that’s the only, or perhaps even the main, reason he’s popular. Bill Clinton was hugely popular from Vietnam to Africa. Friedman’s also right that at an ability to listen intelligently goes a very long way.

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