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Tilting at Windmills

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November 14, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BRAND OBAMA....When the curtain finally came down last week on Karen Hughes' ill-fated effort to spruce up Brand America, Fred Kaplan decided to ask his readers to send in their advice for making America a little less disliked in the world. Virtually all of the feedback came either from foreigners or from Americans living abroad, and here was the #1 suggestion:

Several readers emphasize that many foreigners, even those with high levels of education, have no concept of American life. They don't know that most Americans are religious people. They don't know that most of us aren't wildly rich. They're skeptical of reports that many black people live here — or dismiss them as not "real Americans."....And so the most prominent suggestion on how to improve America's face in the world — a suggestion made by well over half of those who wrote me — is to send the world more American faces and to bring more of the world's faces into America.

....An American exchange student in Jordan writes of the foreigners he's met: "Once they see Americans — blacks, Jews, Asians, and 'real' Americans, as they call blonde-haired Caucasians — and hear their diverse opinions on issues from the War in Iraq to pop music, then people realize how much diversity there is in our country."

This might be the single most compelling reason there is to vote for Barack Obama. All of the Democratic candidates would improve America's substantive position in the world, but Obama goes a step further by being the only one who would improve our standing just by being who he is. Food for thought.

Kevin Drum 11:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (63)

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Comments

interesting. perhaps we should write in michael jackon. think of all the diversity represented by just that one... person. and he can moon walk and sing, you get that for free! he'd be entertaining and diverse! and they love him brunei. and, probably, france.

Posted by: ragged on November 14, 2007 at 11:18 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sceptical about the idea that foreigners have the wrong idea about America, and even if it were true, I don't think it's relevant.
America's image is damaged by the actions of its government in the international arena. "Understanding" the "real" america won't change that behaviour, or international opinions.

Posted by: billy on November 14, 2007 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

This is the primary reason why I support Obama.

Posted by: scruncher on November 14, 2007 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

True, but there's another reason. Obama spent a formative part of his childhood overseas, in Indonesia. For all the foreign policy expertise of a Biden say, I don't think you can underestimate the value of intensive cross-cultural contact. It creates an instinct for how others see us that is sorely lacking in our current President. Of course, Chris Dodd also spent some time overseas as a Peace Corp volunteer in the Dominican Republic.

Posted by: Wagster on November 14, 2007 at 11:32 PM | PERMALINK

Obama's black? I hadn't noticed. I don't really see color.

Posted by: George Costanza on November 14, 2007 at 11:34 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's unwise to evaluate Obama's face when considering his foreign policy prowess as president. This kind of thinking is on par with the reasoning that the reason foreigners dislike us is because of who we are (eg they hate us for our freedom etc).

They don't hate us because we are white, rich, and secular.
They don't hate us because we are a liberal, democratic, pluralistic society.

They hate us because we drop bombs on them and invade their countries, killing their men, women and children. It turns out imperialism is not popular with the colonized society.

Its not Obama's face that's going to make a difference, its his policy. If he still instigates imperialistic foreign policies his black face isn't going to make an iota of difference. All it would mean is a black face is bombing and killing them, instead of a white one. Oddly enough the skin pigmentation of your killer doesn't make you any less dead.

Now it is arguable that Obama would probably implement foreign policy that eschews imperialism, which would improve our relations with foreign countries. But that's because of the policy not Obama's skin color.

I think its a really bad idea to project American identity politics onto the rest of the world. The situations are simply not analagous.

Posted by: Joseph on November 14, 2007 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

Typical Democrat concept; image over substance. While it is better to have a good image than not, what matters is substance. That you would want Obama as president, a inexperienced, loopy-headed hack who suggested we begin bombing Pakistan now, just because it will improve our image with an ignorant world who watch their local TV all day is silly. So is all Democrat policies that appear to help the poor while substantively destroying the fabric of their existence from 1966-1996.

TOH

Posted by: The Objective Historian on November 14, 2007 at 11:41 PM | PERMALINK

It's been over a decade since a white male headed the department chiefly responsible for the conduct of American relations with other countries. Evidently that has not made much of an impact overseas. Perhaps Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice were just too shy about projecting their images. And the fact that the United States is more diverse in practically every meaningful respect than any nation on earth with the exception of India is too obscure to notice.

Maybe the solution is a bigger symbol of our diversity and general wonderfulness, and if the symbol involves putting the third foreign policy novice in a row in the White House, well, that's a small price to pay. Because it's all about who he is -- the one candidate that would convince every foreigner who thinks like an American liberal imagines foreigners should think, that America is so diverse. And wonderful.

Posted by: Zathras on November 14, 2007 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

Two notes: First, Clinton would join Indira, Merkel and Thatcher as the only major female leaders in modern world history, so that ought to count for something.

More importantly, being black is not considered a good attribute in much of the world. Young, liberal friends in Prague may be impressed, but my experience in places like Arabia and China make me believe that we'd be treated less seriously by these people if we had a black president.

That's not an argument for or against Obama, who I think would be quite competent; I simply note that "diversity in the Oval Office is a good thing" is a sentiment not shared by a huge percentage of the world. That's just the way it is.

Posted by: cure on November 14, 2007 at 11:45 PM | PERMALINK

Our executive branch is being run by a criminal conspiracy and we are debating whether people in other countries will like us more if we elect a bright friendly black man.

As an Edwards supporter I am tentatively willing to assume and certainly hope that Edwards, Obama, or Clinton can be a good president. But if Kevin had accurately identified here "the single most compelling reason there is to vote for Barack Obama" then I may have been too generous.

Posted by: Ross Best on November 14, 2007 at 11:51 PM | PERMALINK

Obama would definitely be good for that, but I have to imagine that a woman would also be a positive sign for the rest of the world.

Most importantly, though, it's not Karen Hughes' love fest or any amount of public diplomacy that matters- it's the policies, stupid, as former prof (and oft-cited-here blogger) Dan Drezner put it.

If Obama had invaded Iraq, the bad policies would trump the good face.

Fortunately, WHEN we elect a Democrat the policies will change - and so the world opinions will follow.

Posted by: Chris Doten on November 14, 2007 at 11:53 PM | PERMALINK

Two points:

1. I think one reason the world had a negative impression of the US is unbalanced criticism of the US by some on the left, especially the media. E.g., the New York Times gave weeks of front page coveage to Abu Graib. But, they gave far less coverage to all the good we've done in Iraq, such as
-- building hospitals and schools,
-- providing exceptional medical care in certain instances
-- helping to provide electricity and clean water, despite continuing sabotage by our enemies
-- environmental reclamation of the Baghdad swamps, which Saddam had destroyed
-- ending Saddam's torture. The Times downplayed the amount of torture and its horrific nature.
-- allowing a democracy and free press to flourish

2. In my opinion, Europe and Japan are considerably more bigoted against blacks and other minorities than the US. So, it seems odd that in order to win their favor we would need to prove our lack of prejudice by electing a black President.

Posted by: ex-liberal on November 15, 2007 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, no comment on Obama's Cheif technology officer?

Posted by: Jor on November 15, 2007 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

"Several readers emphasize that many foreigners, even those with high levels of education, have no concept of American life. They don't know that most Americans are religious people."

You have to be pretty stupid to not know that most Americans are religious people.

Where did they find these "foreigners"?

Posted by: Yule Tude on November 15, 2007 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK


We should elect a fat ugly blind black religious cripple. Only then will foreign people see America for the diverse place that it really is.

Posted by: WTF? on November 15, 2007 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

Most will not care how much skin pigment the pilot who drops the bomb has. Its irrelevant. Behavior not words or spin mastery please. Stop the invasions, the aggression, the disdain, the triumphalism. Join the rest of the world for god's sake. You have utterly no mandate to wreak destruction on the defenseless peoples of the world!

Posted by: anon on November 15, 2007 at 12:24 AM | PERMALINK

As someone who has worked on several Fulbright programs, I can only agree. When given the chance to see it for themselves, foreigners tend to be blown away by what they see in this country -- the diversity, the kindness, the humanity -- and have a really hard time reconciling it with America's bully behavior on the international stage.

Alas, it gets you only so far: it does nothing to change American behavior on the world stage, which is where the impetus needs to be placed. Even Bush recognized that exchange programs work great, especially as PR: witness his MEPI program.

Posted by: Chris on November 15, 2007 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

Oh Jeezus, Andrew Sulivan is going to want to fellate you now (not that he probably doesn't dream of it every night anyway) but that's one of his arguments for electing Obama - besides wanting to fellate him too, of course. But do you honestly think the rest of the world isn't aware of American black folks? They don't know Oprah and Denzel and Michael Jackson and Beyonce and Hale Barre and, yes, OJ Simpson? Sorry, the rest of the world isn't as dumb as you think.

Posted by: jbk on November 15, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

one reason the world had a negative impression of the US is unbalanced criticism of the US by some on the left, especially the media. ex liberal dork

The rest of the world doesn't read the New York Times, jerkoff. They get the american news delivered by missile and an economic noose. grow up.

Posted by: billy on November 15, 2007 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

As usual, ex-liberal is a complete moron when to comes to reality.

Strangely, foreigners don't read the NYTimes much. They read The Times, Le Monde, Das Spiegel, etc., etc. As Jospeh pointed out its the actions and the US as an entity that is disliked, not the people.

Ask any older or very old European what they think of FDR, Truman, Eisenhower or JFK, even Reagan, for the most part, the younger about Clinton. Their message and their actions were positive, inclusive and constructive, not negative, destructive and venemous.

The idiot-in-chief managed to turn the whole world from sympathy with the USA to contempt, disgust and even hate by his own decisions and actions.

Racism in Japan and Europe? Well, Japan is famously tribal, class ridden and xenophobic. But talk to their youth and these old isolationist ideas are fading. Europe? You must have forgotten about the reception black jazz musicians and other artists have received there throughout the last century; the refusal in the UK during WWII to accept the US Army's segregation policies; today the higher rate of mixed marriages in Western Europe compared to the US. I don't think there's a nation on the face of this earth that doesn't contain racists, but we here have more than our fair share and I see it every day.

The fact that you don't see the US weaknesses and problems, the hypocrisy of many of our positions promulgated to the world, leads to its own conclusions about your prejudices.

Of course, there is no "typical" US citizen, but we have seen the enemy and it is us.

Posted by: notthere on November 15, 2007 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

Of course. Skin color should be the primary factor in deciding who to vote for.

Fred Kaplan's readers must be extraordinarily ignorant. Where in the world are they not aware of U.S. slavery and the civil rights movement?

Posted by: Luther on November 15, 2007 at 12:56 AM | PERMALINK

I'm an Obama supporter, but I think it's a little sad that his skin color is still the main reason some people "are intrigued" by his candidacy. As several have said above, his skin color won't make a damn bit of difference internationally if people like his policies. If you've got the stuff, people will warm to you regardless. Did anyone in the US like Thatcher primarily because of her gender?

Seriously, people routinely refer to Bill Clinton as "the first black president" now. Obama's life story is interesting, but I like him because he's got more legislative experience than any mainstream candidate, is an expert on and seems to care about the United States constitution, has a decent amount of crossover potential to indies and Republicans in the general election, and was right from the start about the Iraq war.

Posted by: sweaty guy on November 15, 2007 at 1:11 AM | PERMALINK

Der Spiegel.

Posted by: Mike Gredell on November 15, 2007 at 1:12 AM | PERMALINK

Almost as soon as I started living abroad, I realized that this was an issue. My answer was to institute a kind of draft - all Americans should go through an exchange program where they live outside the country for 2 years, either just after high school or just after college. It would transform the world.

Posted by: craigie on November 15, 2007 at 1:14 AM | PERMALINK

America was well liked in the world before this abominable administration. So, the skin color of the President means zilch., it's the policy stupid.

Would you guys get off the "Obama would be great for this country because he's Black"? Jeeeeeeeez!!!

Posted by: MA_Blue on November 15, 2007 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

Zathras: if the symbol involves putting the third foreign policy novice in a row in the White House, well, that's a small price to pay.

Perhaps you would like to point to a foreign policy expert in the top tier of either party's candidates? The only thing weaker on foreign policy than any of the Democratic nominees is every single one of the Republican nominees who, to a man, are stunningly pathetic.

Posted by: heavy on November 15, 2007 at 1:27 AM | PERMALINK

I guess the rest of the world didn't notice Condi Rice or Colin Powell, secreted away in the Dept. of State. Third times for charm, eh?

Posted by: DevilDog on November 15, 2007 at 2:28 AM | PERMALINK

In Zhang Yimou's movies that show Chinese "folk" -- for instance Qiu Jiu or Not One Less -- one sees a huge variety of faces. One conclusion from this post is that Hollywood indeed does not show the faces of America. Living in Los Angeles, the faces are more beautiful than the weather.

Posted by: Philip Merrill on November 15, 2007 at 2:30 AM | PERMALINK

Funny, an American friend, who is black, and I were saying this same thing the other night--British people don't realize how diverse America is, and how we've come to solve our racial differences to the degree we have. (They still have a long way to go here.) Another friend commented that Europeans generally think America consists of two states, NY city and Florida. I've also noticed (or thought I noticed) a slight hint of surprise whenever I say something intelligent in class--like how on Earth does an American know that?!

The idea of Barack Obama even running for president is greeted very enthusiastically here, judging by how much coverage the BBC gives to his candidacy.

Posted by: KathyF on November 15, 2007 at 2:40 AM | PERMALINK

This has got to be one off the dumbest posts of Kevin of all time, and even bordering on the racist ("vote for the black bloke because he's black"). As several people have pointed out, the number one problem with America's image in the world is the American government, which is responsible for the death of more people than almost any other government in the 21st century (of course we have a long way to go until the end of the century). If the American military spent more time on rescuing people (as after the tsunami, in Indonesia) and less time killing and torturing people (or arranging for people to be tortured), then you would find that the world would have a much higher opinion of America.

Posted by: wab on November 15, 2007 at 3:26 AM | PERMALINK

sweaty guy: "I'm an Obama supporter, but I think it's a little sad that his skin color is still the main reason some people 'are intrigued' by his candidacy."

I find it even sadder that in the 21st century, his skin color will still be the main reason why most neo-confederate crackers will vote against him.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on November 15, 2007 at 3:31 AM | PERMALINK

This is a dumb thing to talk about. It sets up the plausible GOP code-worded attack on Obama for the election: "I don't agree that we ought to be voting for someone just because of the color of his skin." Hey, nothing racist there! Right?

I had a right-wing Dutch guy the other day tell me he'd prefer Hillary -- "I'm pretty racist," he said, and continued that he'd rather have someone in a skirt than a...he used a rude Dutch word for a mixed-blood. Fortunately he represents perhaps 5% of Dutch who think that way, and at most 0.5% who'd say it.

Posted by: brooksfoe on November 15, 2007 at 4:20 AM | PERMALINK

KathF, I guess I don't have the same experience or see the same as you.

I really don't know to what degree we have solved our racial differences. It's not what I hear when I discuss it with African Americans, or with some Hispanics and Latinos. Look at the fuss over immigration reform. Look at the "Southern vote". Just because we haven't had street riots in a while doesn't refute the statistical facts concerning some minorities.

You don't describe what statements surprise your UK classmates, but it never ceases to surprise me how little US citizens are actually interested in the rest of the world, who's out there and what is happening, except for a minority who bother to get a passport and at least have a look.

As a nation we're a pretty parochial crowd.

Posted by: notthere on November 15, 2007 at 4:37 AM | PERMALINK

If that's the most compelling reason to vote for Obama, I certainly won't be. It's much more important that we actually be a country with fairness and opportunity for people of all stripes than it is that we APPEAR to be that to foreigners.

Posted by: Royko on November 15, 2007 at 5:06 AM | PERMALINK

Bit of a stretch to think that because our silly elites (Sullivan, NYT's Cohen and now Kevin) are overcome with emotion and cheap sentiment over Obama's skin color, the rest of the world will be as well. Also very provincial and condescending. Give the rest of the world some credit. Maybe they would be impressed if we for once nominated a candidate on merit and not on emotions and superficialities.

When the right wing exploits ethnicity (Gonzales, Clarence Thomas) we can see it's wrong. Well when liberals do it, it is also wrong; and while it would be great symbolism to have a woman or non-white president, the two we've got running just ain't gonna do it.

The only way to improve the image is to back away and distance our policies from the neocons and Israel-centric warmongers who have led us to abandon human rights and paranoic vision of enemies everywhere.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 15, 2007 at 6:51 AM | PERMALINK

I'm an ex-pat American & with work I travel extensively throughout SE Asia, Southern Asia & the Middle East. As far as I'm concerned this anecdotal "feedback" Kevin's quoted is wildly inaccurate. While American foreign policy is indeed, in my experience, universally reviled, the one thing I've found is that, almost equally & conversely beloved is American entertainment - particularly its music & film. These are two areas where African Americans are spectacularly well-represented. The world LOVES blues, jazz, R&B, hip-hop, Motown & - astonishingly enough - it recognises that these are both quintessentially American & intrinsically black American musical forms. Artists like Beyonce, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Snoop Dog, Prince, Rhiana etc. have HUGE recognition factor throughout the world as African Americans. Ditto movie stars like Denzel Washington, Halle Berry, Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock. Ditto Oprah. The surprisingly sophisticated wider world recognises these individuals - along with Colin Powell & Condoleeza Rice - as black Americans. To say otherwise is not only false it's deeply insulting to the intelligence & perceptiveness of non-Americans.

The global affection for American entertainment is rivalled by that for its astonishing sporting heroes. Beyond Tiger Woods, NBA, the Williams sisters etc., the disproportionate preponderance of black Americans in sports - is widely acknowledged & applauded throughout the world.

Any notion that the wider world thinks that "real" Americans are uniformly Caucasian is utterly, proveably absurd. In the armed forces America sends abroad, in its' exported popular culture & successful sports, in its high profile politicians & spokespeople - African Americans are very well represented.

In my experience, what non-Americans DO think of Americans ( as opposed to the American government or policy) is that they are loud, friendly, fat, generous, culturally insensitive, multi-racial, Judeao-Christian & politically naive.

IMHO, Barack Obama's race would neither give him or America any greater benefit internationally than it did for Colin Powell, or does for Condoleeza Rice. Like any other President - Obama, Clinton, Giuliani, Romney, McCain or Edwards - will be ultimately judged internationally by what they actually do, not by their race, gender or creed.


Posted by: DanJoaquinOz on November 15, 2007 at 6:54 AM | PERMALINK

As an American living in Europe, I think the one sure way to restore America's credibility in Europe would be to start impeachment proceedings. The rhetoric here has changed over the last 6 years from talking about the 'Government' or the 'Bush Administration' when talking about things like Iraq. Now more and more people simply say 'the Americans'. The perception is that the people back the actions and ideology of this administration. If they didn't they would try to end it.

Posted by: baldy on November 15, 2007 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK

It's easy to over-PC Kevin's remarks but the symbolism seems like it would be pretty powerful.
What would we think of Iran if it elected a woman president with a Jewish-sounding name?

Posted by: apm on November 15, 2007 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

apm: If that woman had little in the way of experience or accomplishments and no actual record of opposing the existing political structure, we would probably think the Iranians did not vote smart.

Posted by: Chrissy on November 15, 2007 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

apm, I don't deny that there is something important about a nation being able to transcend racial or gender boundaries in the people they choose to lead them. To elect a black man as president, whether it be Obama or Colin Powell or whoever, would be a significant achievement. I also don't deny that the race and gender of a candidate are legitimate reasons for wanting to see them win, assuming that they represent a section of the population up to then not represented in the office they're running for. Barriers like this are meant to be shattered, and for that reason its a sign of an electorate's maturity that, for example, the son of Indian immigrants can become governor of Louisiana.

But policy also matters, and is even more important, than race or gender or religion. For that reason I'd never vote for Powell or Jindal or Rice. It's also why if a Jewish woman became president of Iran but talked the same line as Ahmedinejad, its hardly an improvement.

Plus, Iran has one of the few "democratic" systems dodgier than our electoral college so it ultimately might not signify anything at all.

Posted by: sweaty guy on November 15, 2007 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

One of the signals an Obama presidency--even a candidacy--might send is the rejection of the 19th century mindset of trying to Christianize the rude savages and dusky races beyond our shores, not to mention a president without the luggage of the Cold War, Vietnam, a Southern Strategy, etc.

(Spare me the "experience" of another former inmate of a White House office, with a coterie of followers out to prove that they were, and are, always right altogether.)

Posted by: Steve Paradis on November 15, 2007 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

I'm an Obama supporter, but you might want to include Bill Richardson if you're talking about having a president who represents ethnic diversity in the US. (The diversity card would work for Sen. Clinton, but she fits the "blond" stereotype foreigners seem to have about us.)

Posted by: Erik on November 15, 2007 at 8:57 AM | PERMALINK

As DanJoaquinOz pointed out, African-Americans in various fields are respected in Europe - However, do not elevate someone purely on the basis of a need for someone of color - Several years ago, producers in Vienna were assembling a Christmas program to be broadcast worldwide - Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras had accepted - The producers decided they needed a "Black Name" to complete the trio - As Diana Ross of Motown was very well known, they hired her - It turned into a disaster - With her very soft voice sounding like some tiny bird, she was lost in that great hall trying to sing with the two powerful voices. No studio behind to play with volume controls - Why the hell, the producers did not realize they needed someone of the talent and caliber of Kathleen Battle escapes me.

So many were on Colin Powell's bandwagon - So much so, they overlooked how he had been nothing except a toady in the Americal Division when he tried to suppress the investigation into My Lai. His performance at the UN simply brought into play the Peter Principle of this over elevated toady.

This is not to imply that Senator Obama can not rise to greatness, but, do not simply vote for him based on the color of his skin.

Posted by: bert on November 15, 2007 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

A couple of thoughts, after an abundance of previous comments.

Most people don't have any appreciation of just how badly America's image, America's "brand," has diminished in the past several years, and how dramatically that diminishment impairs everything we try to do in the world. Simply put, the U.S. is no longer liked, nor admired, nor respected--not even, for the most part, among our traditional allies. Among those in the foreign policy world, this predates the Iraq fiasco. The current administration was widely widely as overbearing and even intentionally rude from its first months; was has happened since has both multiplied that feeling by a factor of ten and spread it to the general populace. (As what should be a small matter, I can't count the number of foreigners who've described how unpleasant and even downright hostile it is to go through immigration now.) Any democrat would improve the atmosphere, and thus our standing and security. Obama would change the atmosphere.

Posted by: Matt on November 15, 2007 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

"Foreigners only hate us because the NY Times is so mean to Bush" must be a new winger talking point. Mike K tried it on last week (ironically, in a post in which he tried to argue he has a sophisticated take on European perspectives because he goes to Paris to stuff his face once a year) and now ex-liberal is giving it a shot. Funny stuff.

Posted by: shortstop on November 15, 2007 at 10:00 AM | PERMALINK

bert: With her very soft voice sounding like some tiny bird, she was lost in that great hall trying to sing with the two powerful voices.

Sure, but after the show, when her limo was third in line instead of first, you could hear her screaming all the way to Salzburg.

Posted by: shortstop on November 15, 2007 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Around the world the reputation of the U.S. is in the toilet thanks to Bush and his gang of phycos.

Posted by: Al on November 15, 2007 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK
This might be the single most compelling reason there is to vote for Barack Obama.

Really? That's pretty damning to Obama—suggesting that the most important reason to vote for him is the outward symbolism provided by his ethnicity.

OTOH, sadly enough, I agree that that's the most compelling reason to vote for him (and a similar, but more domestically focussed, symbolism is the most compelling reason to vote for Clinton), at least out of the primary field. Against any of the current crop of Republicans, of course, any Democratic candidate (and most randomly chosen people off the street) would have substantive advantages.

Posted by: cmdicely on November 15, 2007 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

But policy also matters, and is even more important, than race or gender or religion.

Yes, but Kevin's post is in the context of considering the current Democratic candidates. I'm sure a Kucinich foreign policy would trump any symbolism but among the leading candidates, there just isn't a realistic expectation that their policies will differ significantly.

So the symbolism seems like a valid criteria to select among relative equals. Probabably a lot more valid then:

- I'd like to have a beer with him.
- He was calm and collected on TV after 9/11
- Her husband was a smart, likeable President
- I imprinted on him after Dean dropped out and he gives good speeches.

Posted by: apm on November 15, 2007 at 10:26 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know which premise is more infantile...Choosing Obama based solely on his skin color, or choosing Obama because his skin color MAY make the rest of the world look more kindly upon us? Ridiculous. Judging from the comments, I'd say the larger portion of Libs agree....this is inane.

Posted by: Eason on November 15, 2007 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

**

Posted by: mhr on November 15, 2007 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Choosing Obama based solely on his skin color

Using the word 'solely' is a willful misstatement of these opinions. Alan Keyes, Mitt Romney, or Rudy Guiliani would get no liberal support despite their ethnic/religious diversity.

"Single most compelling" or "primary reason" are not the same as "solely" and the context clearly suggests that a certain threshold of policy and philosophy has been met and stipulated.

Posted by: apm on November 15, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Obama is a homophobe. To me 'nough said

Posted by: raj on November 15, 2007 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Waaay too much oversimplification here...yes, this is a compelling positive about Obama--certainly not the only reason to vote for him, but not outside the mix or outside the pale at all as a topic of discussion.

We'd have to deconstruct this a little, though, and in doing so, the analysis not as simple and compelling as the original argument, but here it is...

Electing Obama *despite* who he is reflects well upon the American people because it indicates they are more open minded, liberal (in the generic sense), cooperative, and less arrogant than might have been previously believed. The reasons for this are two-fold: Obama himself is more of all of the above than the current incumbent (as would be any Democratic choice), AND a country that was as dastardly as portrayed simply COULD NOT ELECT someone who is a minority with a funny name who spent a lot of time overseas. The U.S. is a diverse country--electing Bush revealed the worst of our nature--I tend to think electing Obama would show the best of our nature.

Examples like Albright, Powell, and Rice were all appointed, as opposed to elected--their connection to the general population is extremely indirect. A nationwide election telegraphs a great deal about what a nation thinks. By Bush being in office for 2 terms, we didn't just get the problem of Bush's misdeeds--his misdeeds were reflected back on us because we "chose" him.

So obviously, Obama being black isn't the only thing there--I doubt anyone truly means to say it quite so starkly--it's IN ADDITION to the other things about him, which are a great improvement over the incumbent.

I'd like to juxtapose this with the comments coming out of South Carolina where black primary voters have been saying they don't want to vote for Obama for his own safety. They assume that if he wins, he'll be assassinated. When you have that kind of cynicism and pessimism coming out of your own country, you can see what a sea change it would be if he actually did win.

Posted by: JMS on November 15, 2007 at 12:05 PM | PERMALINK
…US liberals are just like that guy- they blame America first. meatheadrepublican at 11:05 AM
Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell liberals? Who knew?

Microtargeting constituencies
...This points to a major difference between the Hillary Clinton and Obama campaigns. The Clinton campaign's chief strategist, Mark Penn, is out with a book on microtargeting, Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes, that has made him the butt of countless nasty blogospheric comments and media reviews, while Obama's team is quietly using a top Democratic firm to do the very same thing. Obama's rhetoric may be different from Clinton's, but the baseline architecture of his campaign is not just a textbook, it's the next edition of that textbook that's not out in stores yet....
--Garance Franke-Ruta

Posted by: Mike on November 15, 2007 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

So, we should just present to the world an "appearance" of peace, love and understanding in the form of a Blabk Man?

How about if we STOP THE MILITARY AND ECONOMIC WARFARE we are waging against much of the world?

Posted by: mrjones on November 15, 2007 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

That's not a good enough reason to vote for anybody.

Good point, mrjones.

Posted by: jMe on November 15, 2007 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Obama goes a step further by being the only one who would improve our standing just by being who he is.

That's the single most stupidest thing you ever wrote. Ridiculous. I can just see al those prisoners smiling between the dunks of drowning torture at the thought of their bro' in the White House.
Man, you are dumb.

Posted by: Mooser on November 15, 2007 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Holy hell, appealing to many citizens of other countries might be hard because, apparently, they are idiots. The world is full of Rednecks.

And in my travels as a merchant shipman all over the world I know that alot of people just want to hate Americans. Not just American policy but Americans. They already know most of us have nothing to do with our stupid policies but they really don't care. The whole "real American" phenomenon is set up so that their hate can never pass their smell test.

Posted by: I'm A Democrat But... on November 15, 2007 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

If all the candidates were equally astute, with the same capabilities and goals, then I could see that Sen. Obama's race might be the tipping point in his favor. But since the candidates aren't cookie-cutter images and vary wildly in aims and abilities, this is a ridiculous idea.
If we are worried about how the rest of the world perceives us, perhaps that is because the present mal-Administration really doesn't give a damn about the rest of the world and hasn't since January 21, 2001.

Posted by: Doug on November 15, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

What a moronic idea (that letting foreigners see "real" Americans will change their minds about the country.
Let's try this idea in reverse:
Do Americans hate individual North Koreans? If they met them as individuals, would they be any less concerned about the country? NO, for the obvious reason that no-one in the US gives a fsck about how Park Lee lives his everyday life in Pyongyang; they care what the NK government does.
Likewise Iranians aren't suddenly going to forget the long and ongoing US interference in their country by getting to see how Tyrone lives his life in the hood.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on November 15, 2007 at 9:28 PM | PERMALINK

"1. I think one reason the world had a negative impression of the US is unbalanced criticism of the US by some on the left, especially the media. E.g., the New York Times gave weeks of front page coveage to Abu Graib. But, they gave far less coverage to all the good we've done in Iraq, such as
-- building hospitals and schools,
-- providing exceptional medical care in certain instances
-- helping to provide electricity and clean water, despite continuing sabotage by our enemies
-- environmental reclamation of the Baghdad swamps, which Saddam had destroyed
-- ending Saddam's torture. The Times downplayed the amount of torture and its horrific nature.
-- allowing a democracy and free press to flourish
"

Yeah, letting the rest of the world meet this guy is really going to improve America's image!

Posted by: Maynard Handley on November 15, 2007 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

Andrew Sullivan makes precisely this point in his Obama cover piece in TNR.

It is a good point, and a side benefit to an Obama presidency. But it just isn't enough to be decisive when casting your vote.

Yes, I'd like ablack president. It would be good for America's image. Most improtant is that we have a Democratic president

Posted by: tomtom on November 15, 2007 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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