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Tilting at Windmills

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December 31, 2007

OBAMA AND 'RE-BRANDING'....This came up quite a bit a couple of weeks ago, after the annoying Bob Kerrey brouhaha, but it's also been a part of the campaign debate for months: would Barack Obama's ethnic and racial background help improve the United States' image internationally, if he's elected?

Reza Aslan argues that the "chattering classes" who are encouraged by Obama's potential impact around the world are mistaken.

[I]n the words of the French foreign policy analyst Dominique Moisi, "The very moment he appears on the world's television screens, victorious and smiling, America's image and soft power would experience something like a Copernican revolution."

As someone who once was that young Muslim boy everyone seems to be imagining (albeit in Iran rather than Egypt), I'll let you in on a secret: He could not care less who the president of the United States is.

Aslan's point seems incontrovertible: U.S. critics internationally care about the president's policies, not the president's ethnicity. If there's a competition between image and substance, the result isn't even close. "That is how the post-Bush 'war on terror' must be handled," Aslan wrote. "Not by 're-branding' the mess George W. Bush has made, but by actually fixing it."

And while this is obviously true, I think there are a couple of angles to this that make Aslan's thesis less persuasive.

First, Aslan argued from personal experience, growing up in Iran, that a young Muslim critic of the United States living in the Middle East "couldn't name three U.S. presidents if he tried." But I'm curious, hasn't the proliferation of the modern media changed this equation a bit from Aslan's youth?

I'm reminded of this recent piece from Slate's Fred Kaplan, who encouraged readers to send him suggestions for improving America's reputation on the global stage. Most of the responses came from foreigners or from Americans living abroad, and this was the most common recommendation:

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."

Are we to believe, given this, that electing a black man as president of the United States would have no effect on international perceptions? Granted, this would not exactly produce "epiphanies" for jihadists throughout the region -- but no one's saying it would. We're just talking about a modest step towards improving the nation's reputation, in the context of "soft power," not "hard power."

Second, Aslan's argument seems to be criticism of Obama, but it need not be. As far as I can tell, Obama has never said that his background would improve America's standing in the world. Indeed, Aslan's piece didn't cite any examples -- it instead criticized Andrew Sullivan and the Boston Globe's editorial board for making the arguments.

I've been watching Obama pretty closely for a year, and he's not talking about "re-branding"; he's been fairly specific about policy -- in several speeches and in his Foreign Affairs article -- detailing how he would change (read: improve) U.S. foreign policy. One can agree or disagree with his vision, but Aslan's criticism seems to be directed at Obama supporters, not Obama himself.

I think the point Obama backers have tried to make in this discussion is that his background might help, and that seems to be a fair point. It's not the be-all, end-all to a successful counter-terrorism campaign; it won't end al Qaeda recruiting; and it won't suddenly make the United States popular in the Middle East. The impact, in all likelihood, would be modest.

But it'd be something positive. As Kevin recently put it, "[I]n the long run, the only way to defeat the hardcore jihadists is to dry up their support in the surrounding Muslim world. And on that score, a president with black skin, a Muslim father, and a middle name of Hussein, might very well be pretty helpful."

Steve Benen 2:55 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (42)

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I agree. While I don't think a black president would change world opinion (although his actions might), I find it hard to believe that it would have no reaction at all. At least a collective "Huh, imagine that." moment.

Posted by: raff on December 31, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Well, at very least it'd make Morrissey happy (viz. "America Is Not the World," from You Are the Quarry).

Posted by: Pete on December 31, 2007 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK


In a strict context of "re-branding," i.e. "changing what people think of when they think of America," no one does more in that regard than Obama.
Clinton is a very distant second.

So, we have to ask ourselves - how important is "re-branding" to us? A lot of you will say, "not very. I'm more concerned with the inner workings of the (insert issue here)."

As for me, I think it's vital. I've heard the arguments that we need a POTUS who can "hit the ground running." 4 years ago, I made the same argument on behalf of John Kerry.
My reply is this - if the tide is running hard against you, it's hard to hit the ground running.
The tide will be firmly against Clinton - through little fault of her own; there's a reason we call them "wingnuts."
It will flow almost as firmly against Edwards - he scares the corporations.
Obama gives his supporters hope, and his detractors something to wonder about. At worst, he's an unknown quantity. At best, he's a Democratic Bizarro Reagan.
We could use some of that mojo right now.

Posted by: cazart on December 31, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

At the very least it would help fight the perception that Americans are stupid bigots.

Posted by: MNPundit on December 31, 2007 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

The obvious solution is to elect Gladys Knight president, so we can have a black Mormon woman in the Oval Office.

Posted by: linus on December 31, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

I think one bonus of having Obama as President is his background. It is the icing on the cake so to speak. The music of the US changes immediately in the world if he is elected, not only the words but the pictures. After the past eight years, this might actually be the ONLY thing that gets the world's attention immediately and helps them get rid of the bad taste in their mouth left over from Bush.

We need a fresh start in the 21st century. This is not the America we know and love. The New York Times Editorial today pretty much captures what most of us yearn for again. We need to rethink our policies and our plans and what we need and want to be in light of the new realities. Some of the new policies may have to stay. Many can be administered in a new way. Some can be eliminated or greatly modified.

The United States can face these new realities and not completely eliminate what is great about this experiment of a nation and what we and others and ourselves admire about the US. Obama can probably do that better than any other candidate because he will bring fresh faces and ideas and few hanger ons from the past.

Posted by: Barbara Blanton on December 31, 2007 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if all we do is re-brand the mess, then obviously that does very little. this is one of the reasons that Obama's not my first choice among the Democrats: we need substantive change, not jsut symbolic change. On the other hand, any substantive changes he made, any constructive changes in policy would benefit from that symbolic change, so the combo might do some good.

and, even tho he's not my first choice I do think obama would make some changes for the better. I'd prefer Edwards because we have a chance here to elect a Democrat with a mandate to push back against income inequality and corporate power, a chance to potentially rebrand liberalism after a couple of decades or more of its demonization. Obama's post-partisan rhetoric seems to me to be more of a mandate for compromise which i'm afraid would be mandate for surrender on some important points that we have a chance ot actually push forward. Despite these fears, Obama's offers some good qulaities that make him an attractive second choice (among the 3 candidates that look viable right now) for me.

Posted by: URK on December 31, 2007 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, look at all the goodwill we have reaped from having Colin Powell go to the UN and Condi Rice ride her diplomatic shuttle around the world...

The US is not soap nor a freakin' brand of soap. It is an idea made practical. When you betray the idea or fail to implement it, you destroy the country.

Most of the people who make up the Middle Eastern street are conspiracy theorists anyway; so we could even elect a Muslim president, and they would still assume "the Jews" dictate our foreign policy.

Posted by: lampwick on December 31, 2007 at 3:48 PM | PERMALINK

The obvious solution is to elect Gladys Knight president, so we can have a black Mormon woman in the Oval Office.

Gladys Knight? Let's go for all the marbles with a Louis Farrakhan! With Rosario Dawson for VP!

Posted by: calling all toasters on December 31, 2007 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

The tide will be firmly against Clinton - through little fault of her own; there's a reason we call them "wingnuts."

If Clinton is elected President, that would be a clear sign that the wingnuts have lost their grip on the American masses. The wingnuts have already thrown a lot at Clinton in the last 15 years and will throw everything they can muster, should she be the Dem nominee.

As for re-branding the US policies via Obama, the impact of that re-branding lasts only a couple of days. There is much to be done on several policy fronts. The first year of the next occupant of the WH will be closely watched. He or she has to make some tough decisions. Sticking to the same old crap is likely to cost them their reelection in 2012.

Posted by: rational on December 31, 2007 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

...but I really just want the best President possible, not the one who makes the best magazine cover. And I don't think that "dark-skinned foreigners prefer him" is a winning campaign theme.

Posted by: calling all toasters on December 31, 2007 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Mr Aslan certainly has re-branded himself into a characature of the faculty lounge naughty boy liberal, but his argument is faulty for at least three reasons:

1) America would be hard pressed to find a President as feckless and incompetent as Jimmy Carter and George Bush three times in 50 years. It would violate the law of averages.

2) Obama's re-branding will come after a campaign where Bob Corker's white bimbo ad against Ford will look like a powder puff. If you look at what electing JFK after confronting religious prejudice did for America's image in South America you might get an idea of the power of the symbolic importance electing Obama would bring to other parts of the world.

3) I think any Dem that's elected will want to move on the issues Mr. Aslan mentions, the question is will that President have the press and elite opinion with him to the same degree that Bush had it against him... If Hillary is elected the honeymoon will be a few days at best, I think Obama has the political chops to carry his mandate forward.

Posted by: mr insensitive on December 31, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

The suggestion that Obama's race is of significance outside the U.S. is quite racist and very wrong. But the question is, actually, where would Obama be if he were not black?

Posted by: lee on December 31, 2007 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

You're speaking only of perceptions. They're important, and I do agree with you that there would be an incremental improvement of our PR just because of who Obama is ethnically.

But that background has also shaped him. For 7 years we've had a President who barely travelled at all before becoming President -- to a degree that is highly unusual for someone in his class. No wonder he's had a tin ear for how the rest of the world views us... he's never shown any curiosity about it. If Obama is elected, Bush will be replaced by someone who's worldview was forged in a multicultural cauldron. One thing is visiting other countries as an adult; that is a useful and shaping experience. But to live in a foreign country as a child, to wrestle with other customs and languages and beliefs when your own are being shaped, that is an experience of a different magnitude that can shape a worldview forever. For a man such as that, crosscultural insight is a given.

Posted by: Wagster on December 31, 2007 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Aslan is 100% correct. I'm an American, it's my country, and I don't give a flying fuck what race, gender, or religion the president is. All that matters is policy. Sure race, gender and religion may influence policies, but it doesn't much matter how the president arrives at his/her policies; what matters is what those policies are. It's time to get past all the atmoshperics and meta nonsense and focus on what matters: the policies that are followed and the laws that are passed. Concentrating on everything else is what Republicans regularly do as political slieght-of-hand to distract Americans from recognizing that they don't like Republican policies. Focus poeple, focus.

I don't care if the President is Catholic or Mormon or Muslim or Jewish; I don't care if the President has 1 or 2 X chromosomes; I don't care how hard it is for the President to get sunburnt; and honestly, I couldn't care less if the President was getting a blowjob from a different 20-year-old every single fucking day as long as the policies were good. His personal life doesn't matter to me, and certainly not to those outside the country. I just want the country run well. The rest is just noise.

I don't understand how Americans think otherwise. The fact that they do speaks very poorly of this country, very, very poorly. What's better for the country: 1) a black, unmarrried female lesbian President (think Condoleeza Rice if it helps) continuing Bush's policies and destroying this country on every front; or 2) a white, Southern married male President (think Edwards if it helps) enacting much better legislation in every area. Is it even close? (NB: this doesn't mean I favor Edwards, just that he has the same demographics as every other President).

The demographics of the President are almost purely symbolic, especially to the rest of the world. Policy and legislation are real. If America was about to invade your country, would it matter if the President was a woman? black? Non-Protesten? If America's economic policies were destablizing the global economy, would it matter? No and no. I can't fathom why people give a shit about this nonsense.

The best way--no the only way--to get past racism and sexism and religious descrimination is to not give any importance to those things when you evaluate someone and to evaluate them only on their merit. We need to get past this shit.

Posted by: blah2 on December 31, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

Moisin obviously means that a Pznt. Obamam is an unmistakable sign of a distinct and substantive policy shift.

How Reza Aslan could miss the thrust of Moisin's thought is beyond me.

Of course policy trumps image. And?

After 8 years of Bush, in which the American image abroad was (is) terrifying, due to the lack of any constructive policy---or any policy at all---any new face will send a different message. Obama's message will be unmistakable.

Posted by: johnsturgeon on December 31, 2007 at 4:16 PM | PERMALINK

lee is quite right. The American preoccupation and perception of race should not be projected to other cultures where it doesn't exist. It's condescending and the perceptions of Kaplans readers and writers probably do not represent a good sampling Muslim opinion.

Posted by: Chrissy on December 31, 2007 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

If Barrack Obama stepped to the microphone and said that the women of America, particularly the teens and the coming to be teens, should reduce the flagrant sexuality of their clothing style he would make considerably more impact with political Islam than his being a bi-racial American.

Middle east power resides with or certainly has made accommodations with societal mandates from the various organizations espousing fundamental Islam.

With America's help, there now exists no Democratic or secular or liberal governments in the Middle East.

Who exactly is it that is going to cheer that the next US President has a different skin color?

Posted by: cognitorex on December 31, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

It is as though, rather than accepting blame for the mess and taking responsibility for cleaning it up, they would prefer to slap a new coat of paint on the problem and declare it fixed.- Reza Aslan

I agree with everything Aslan said. Unfortunately, the rest of the world doesn't quite understand what I believe to be a uniquely American obsession with appearances and symbolism over substance, and an equally obsessive need to appear to always win, even when the facts show otherwise.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 31, 2007 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

I dont think his ethnic background matters much. Its the experience.

Posted by: Xisithrus on December 31, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

Aslan is 80% right. Its the policies stupid. But first impressions do carry a lot of weight, and a good policy under Obama would likely get a better first look. Even the ability to get his/her policy preferences acted upon would likely be affected. In politics first impressions are somewhat less important than in dating, in international relations even less. But they will still have an impact on-the-street, if they are backed up by sensible policies.

Posted by: bigTom on December 31, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

After reading all of the comments from above, virtually everyone seems to be 'selling' Optimism.

I am of the view that given the problems that need to be fixed, the next Democratic President will be fighting the junkyard dogs in the Senate, and little if anything to be accomplished, will be highly difficult and doubtful.

Our domestic policies are in tatters, and our foreign policy is predicated on a Manifest Destiny Exported, and other nations recognize it and quite accurately so. And taken together, there is no money to accomplish the little that will eventually be accomplished.

As to Hillary Clinton, the only platform from where she can 'preach' is by reaching out to the two existing Presidents who are women in Latin America. With all three working in tandem, they could conceively have the requisite "street cred" for any success.

As to Barack Obama, he will have the traditional problem of "how" to correct the damage created by Bush and Cheney, and Obama, has yet to speak strenuously about how he would respond to this challenge. Here in Arizona, not much has been heard by the many of what Obama apt to accomplish.

With respect to Edwards, he does have the 'chops' but he will be fighting the K-street lobbyists and they are excellent in-fighters with the open wallets. And the Blue Dogs will be looking to attach themselves to this readily available cash, so it would be wise to expect their allegiance to a Democratic President and his or her policies, would be dubious at best. So, when it comes to counting the votes at the end of the political day, Edwards will be hard-pressed to just survive the "blues".

Now, many can and have criticized my Iconic Hero, Jimmy Carter, but Carter had the 'smarts' not to take America to war, and equally important, he visualized himself as a transitional figure given the angst and anger for Nixon. In actuality, Ford paid the much bigger price. And Ford's considerable political skills could not change the historical 'context'. And this historical context will be the major determinant for success. To wit, there are too many "passive" Moderates who are willing to sit on their hands despite any appeal for when the heavy lifting is required.


Posted by: Jaango on December 31, 2007 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

But the question is, actually, where would Obama be if he were not black?

I have no idea, but it's a stupid question. Where would any of the other candidates be if they *were* black -- or something other than they are? Maybe you think Edwards & Clinton & Giuliani & Romney & everyone else would be exactly who & where they are by virtue of whatever it is you think got them to where they are. But the only reason Obama is where he is is because he's black. Your question is offensive.

Posted by: junebug on December 31, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Insensitive, I have to take issue with you lumping Jimmy Carter in with George Bush.

Whatever faults Jimmy Carter may have had, he did accomplish the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Palestine.

George Bush isn't even in the same league. Not to mention he combines incompetence with evil.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on December 31, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

But the question is, actually, where would Obama be if he were not black?

His oratory skills are not dependent upon his skin color, nor are his abilities to lead.

And yes, race matters because race matters outside of the US too. India still has problems with their old caste system. Britain and the rest of Europe still struggle with "guest workers" who are of a different color. And China and Japan leaders have made derogatory comments about blacks.

America's racial problems are NOT unique, it's a world wide problem. But, at the very minimum, I think that the successful election of Barak Obama would signal that maybe the US is moving out of it's racists dark ages.


Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on December 31, 2007 at 5:01 PM | PERMALINK

"... Edwards, he does have the 'chops' but he will be fighting the K-street lobbyists and they are excellent in-fighters with the open wallets. And the Blue Dogs will be looking to attach themselves to this readily available cash, so it would be wise to expect their allegiance to a Democratic President and his or her policies, would be dubious at best. ...

Jaango Posted by: Jaango on December 31, 2007


I take your point that it will be difficult for Edwards. But, what's the alternative? If we continue to elect our more Conservative Democrats to the presidency, then we'll never ever get anything done for the middle class and to end this crazy dependence on oil. Enough is enough! We have to stand and fight!

Edwards is our best choice.

Posted by: MarkH on December 31, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

This Reza guy speaks only for himself. Obama offers hope. That would be recognized around the world.

Posted by: Bob M on December 31, 2007 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

If image was so goddamn special then why not vote for Richardson who combines that with leadership experience? This image/identity thing is ridiculous. I was born to immigrant parents and spent my entire childhood and early adolescence abroad: Americans are seen as Americans. Period.

I don't buy his "global" image: if he had such an empathetic understanding of other cultures his campaign wouldn't have made that Punjab remark, his voting record on Iraq and the "war on terror" wouldn't be the same as Clinton's, and he wouldn't have threatened to attack Pakistan or send troops there earlier this year. Having a Kenyan family doesn't make you "global." Hell, I wouldn't make such a claim.

Bob M,

Tell me you're kidding. We're voting for a president, not a therapist. Besides, what's so hopeful about his voting record on foreign policy?

Posted by: Nathan on December 31, 2007 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Are we to believe ... that electing a black man as president of the United States would have no effect on international perceptions?

—Steve Benen

Anyone who believes that electing a black man or a woman as President of the United States would potentially have no effect on international perceptions is brain dead.

However, I wholeheartedly agree that, if it were followed by the same mindless international policies as the current white man pursues, the effect would be worse than zero. The conclusion would quickly be drawn that we're all really fucked up -- regardless of race or gender.

Posted by: Econobuzz on December 31, 2007 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

All of the above comments have been centered around the top three Democratic candidates. No one would suspect that in the Democratic party, the [alleged] Big Tent party, that there are other candidates running, such as Dennis Kucinich. Usually the reason given is that, perhaps in an attempt to emulate the less than knowledgeable pundits, Kucinich is unelectable. But if enough people and so-called experts continue to make that claim, then that position becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It never ceases to amaze that on a supposed progressive blog, the most progressive candidate who is running for office never gets mentioned as someone who can lead this country forward with some rather practical and [does one dare say it?] progressive ideas, such as true universal health care for everyone in the United States and the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and the impeachment of Bush and Cheney, the withdrawal of the U.S. from NAFTA, etc. Apparently the last thing that liberals desire is for a politician to actually upset the status quo.

Posted by: Erroll on December 31, 2007 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

@Dr. Morpheus:

True, racism exists in other parts of the world but he will not penetrate bigotry b/c he'll be considered the *exception to the rule.* That's why its is so difficult to undermine: it's not logical, quite resistant to it actually. Although Oprah is known and loved throughout the world the standard image of a black woman is a dehumanized and demonized one. During Jim Crow, whites loved individual blacks but despised blacks overall. Men can love their wives, sisters, and daughters but still hold misogynistic views of other women.


How is that question offensive? It simply removes the identity/image factor. Why not ask what else does Obama offer and why is that somehow legitimate in a presidential candidate?

Posted by: Peters on December 31, 2007 at 6:55 PM | PERMALINK

lee is quite right. The American preoccupation and perception of race should not be projected to other cultures where it doesn't exist.

Yeah, but pretending that racism is only an American problem is an even worse approach. Do you realize how much it would fuck with the heads of East Asians and South Americans, to name two cultural groupings in which anti-black racism is pretty strong, that the US might have a black president?

Posted by: Pete on December 31, 2007 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

But this is a losing gambit.
So we elect a muslim name now. What are we going to do next to appease the people who 'hate' us?
Or whom are we going to elect after Obama is done? If we elect a caucasian with a christian name are we then regressing?
Our policies need to change, no doubt and we should change them to be as just as possible. After that, we have to recognize that the people who 'hate' us also have to change. And if the only thing that will appease them is electing a muslim here, we might as well hand them the keys to this country...and every other country in the world.
When you look at the anti-american sentiment in a country like Pakistan, where we have been staunch allies in the face of repeated instransigencies and irrespective of whether there was an elected government or a dictatorship, where we have actively funded the rise of the islamists...what policy bones are we going to have to offer them. I am convinces that if we miraculously solve the Palestinian crisis they will want then to solve the Kashmir crisis (though we have been on their side for the most part on this)..if we solve that it will be something else...maybe helping Indonesia oppress their non-muslim subjects again.

I am frankly not optimistic about that approach; moreover calibrating our foreign policy based on appeasing the people who hate us seems so wrong....how about rewarding those who like us and see if that is an incentive for these people to like us....oh, I forgot, the people who like us don't sit on large swaths of oil.

Posted by: Sam Jackson on December 31, 2007 at 7:07 PM | PERMALINK

Besides, what's so hopeful about his voting record on foreign policy?


Posted by: Bob M on December 31, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Obama offers hope. That would be recognized around the world.

After that comment, I don't know if I can ever mock Ron Paul fantrolls again. This is way better.

Posted by: calling all toasters on December 31, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

Bob M,

Good God, now I know you're a fool: his VOTING RECORD on Iraq and the "war on terror" is nearly identical to Clinton's! His votes provide a blank check in funding an unending occupation!

Talk is cheap. Next time, actually check his damn voting record.

Posted by: Nathan on December 31, 2007 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

Worried about America's image internationally?

It's the bombs, stupid.

Posted by: luci on January 1, 2008 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

This is simple. It would have a major impact. I have lived overseas for years now, and even having a black woman as secretary of State is a big deal. Obviously skin color matters less than actual policy, but even if Obama turned into Bush III, we would still be telling the world, "In America, anyone can work hard and become a mass murdering, corrupt, idiotic zealot."

Posted by: John Stephrn Lewis on January 1, 2008 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

Nathan, now, now, now, be nice. What's with this attacking fellow commenters? Are you a troll? Niceness is the first step in Obama politics. Remember when you first expostulated, We're voting for a president, not a therapist. Hey, subliminally, you stated your own needs. Right on cue. Obama as President will help you just by creating a friendlier public environment, I assure you. Therapy is good for the overly aggressive.

As for politics, Iraq separates Obama from the others. That is the first thing you need to learn about the current race. He said in 2002, "I know that an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I'm opposed to dumb wars." He said it in 2002! If that is not vision, then nothing is.

Now who is right in retrospect: Obama or those who caved in on Iraq? Be nice. Logic would help, too.

Posted by: Bob M on January 1, 2008 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

According to Marc Ambinder, Obama does make this very point in private at least, including private fundraisers. It's a pervasive enough point among the Obama supporters to believe it's at least a quiet talking point. Aslan's main point that foreigners are far less obsessed with America's racial history is worth noting, since our insistence on seeing the world only through our own history speaks to a perennial and corrosive American solipsism.

Posted by: AJ on January 1, 2008 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen is a great guest blogger!

Posted by: Ed on January 1, 2008 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

"we need substantive change, not jsut symbolic change."

I say, in a media-dominated politcal world, symbolic change IS substantive change.

Posted by: cazart on January 2, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK



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