Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gary Younge on Obama's Meaning to the World

By Ben Trott

Gary Younge has an article titled, 'What Obama Means to the World' in the forthcoming, February 2, issue of the Nation. He argues,
'There was, of course, more to the euphoria over Obama's victory than the question of exclusion - however and wherever it is framed. The defeat of the Republican agenda, with all the war and global havoc it has brought over the past eight years, was enough to make the world jump for joy. After Bush won in 2004, Britain's Daily Mirror ran a headline saying, 'Doh: 4 More Years Of Dubya... How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?' The Guardian's features supplement ran a page all in black with tiny words saying, 'Oh My God!' Many understand Obama as America's belated but nonetheless more considered, less cavalier response to 9/11.

'As one of the few members of America's political class not tainted by the Iraq invasion, he appeared a thinker as well as a decider. Worldly where Bush was parochial, consensual where Bush was confrontational, nuanced where Bush was brash, he struck the outside world as though he regarded dialogue and negotiation as strengths rather than weaknesses. With his Kenyan roots, multiracial upbringing and childhood experiences in Indonesia, he also struck a more global figure. Of twenty-two countries polled by Pew Research last July, in only one nation, Jordan, did a majority say they had more confidence in McCain than in Obama. In the remaining twenty-one, nine (ranging from Tanzania to Japan) backed Obama by more than thirty points. In only six was the margin in single digits.

'This enthusiasm was not spread evenly geographically. Western Europe (particularly France) was elated, while the Middle East was wary. "In these nations, suspicions of American power are pervasive and extend beyond President Bush's personal unpopularity," argued Richard Wike of the Pew Global Attitudes Project. "Unlike in many other regions, in the Middle East there is little optimism about the post-Bush era." Nonetheless, with America's international standing at an all-time low, a change of direction was generally welcome.

'But while antipathy toward Bush and what he had done to the world explains the breadth of Obama's appeal, it could never explain the depth. Relatives of mine in Barbados and Ireland followed the primaries closely. Children of friends at home in England asked if they could stay up to see the election results. They would never have done that for John Kerry.'
However, he warns,
'People's obsession with Obama always said more about them than him. Most wanted a paradigm shift in global politics, and, unable to elect governments that could fight for it, they simply assigned that role to Obama. His silence during the shelling of Gaza, however, was sobering for many. As a mainstream Democrat he stands at the head of a party that in any other Western nation would be on the right on foreign policy, the center on economic policy and the center-left on social policy.

'Come inauguration day, that final symbolic set piece, the transition will be complete. The rest of the world must become comfortable with a black American, not as a symbol of protest but of power. And not of any power but a superpower, albeit a broken and declining one. A black man with more power than they. How that will translate into the different political cultures around the globe, whom it will inspire, how it will inspire them and what difference that inspiration will make will vary. From inauguration day people's perceptions of Obama will no longer hinge on what he is but on what he does.'

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