I can remember the disgust I felt between 2001 and 2008 when so many critics of President Bush couldn’t bring themselves to applaud anything he did, instead only grinding their teeth as they mentioned his name. If boxed into a corner and forced into commending something, such as the overthrow of the Taliban, it would not be said without hateful prefaces and postscripts about how evil, dumb, incompetent, radical, etc. he is.
This pride-filled childishness, intellectual unfairness, and overall resistance to acknowledge any success propelled me to promise myself that I’d never adopt the same attitude, would remain as independent as possible so as not to be seduced by the partisan rage, and would take pride in supporting my president whenever I felt comfortable doing so. In keeping with that, I have cleaned out my inbox to prepare for the hate mail as I praise President Obama for achieving one of his main objectives.
The Nation Brands Index now ranks the United States as the most admired country around the world. Given that the majority of the world’s population is opposed to American foreign policies and is skeptical of our intentions, this is no easy feat — especially following President Bush’s public relations problems.
“What’s really remarkable is that in all my years studying national reputation, I have never seen any country experience such a dramatic change in its standing as we see for the United States for 2009,” said Simon Anholt, the founder of the NBI. He says the only factor he can identify as causing this is the election of President Obama.
Anholt is right. There is no other explanation for this change in America’s image, but I don’t think it’s President Obama’s foreign policy stances that have propelled America to the top of the poll. I would gamble that a similar portion of the world’s population opposes our policies in general, just as they did under President Bush. Withdrawing from Iraq, planning to close Guantanamo Bay, direct negotiations with rogue states, and other changes certainly help a good deal, but the more decisive factor is the image of Obama as a person and his “packaging” of his ideas that have improved America’s standing.
He personifies the American dream and the credibility of American values — the most important reasons the world admires the U.S. As an African-American, he debunks the stereotype heard far too often around the world that America is a racist country. And as an African-American who grew up poor, he is a walking rebuttal to the allegations that in our country not everyone can make it and those who are disadvantaged are left to dangle in a net of unachievable dreams.
Merely saying the words “President Obama” discredits anti-American propaganda around the world and causes those facing barriers to their own personal fulfillment to place faith in the values that have allowed Obama, and the U.S. as a whole, to succeed. You add Obama’s personal likeability, ability to inspire, and eloquent rhetoric that sounds principled and tough when necessary but not frightening to the world audience and you have a man that they see as the personification of the good of America.
The evidence for this conclusion is that last year, at the height of Bush’s unpopularity, the U.S. still came in seventh place, behind Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan, and Italy. If the world’s admiration of the U.S. were directly tied to its view of our foreign policy, then we should have been at the bottom last year — and certainly not in the top ten. There’s also a common trend uniting the top countries: they are all Western democracies. Countries that oppose American foreign policy but reject these values are the least admired, such as Iran, which came in the last spot, in 50th place. In fact, none of the countries that are known as the main opponents of American foreign policy crack the top ten.
From these observations we can conclude that the most critical factor in appealing to the world’s audience is Western values. If the world sees the U.S. as contradicting these values, then our reputation will fall. There can be disagreement over how to apply these values to policy, but the dimmer the lights of the shining city upon a hill become, the less people will become attracted to it.
President Obama’s achievement as shown by this poll can be applauded by his critics and supporters alike. We are all Americans and we all benefit from such change. For eight years, the political discussion and country as a whole suffered from those with Bush Derangement Syndrome. Let’s make the next four (or eight) years different. Obama’s critics can begin now by acknowledging this accomplishment and doing so without regret.