Andrew Sullivan Ruminates on the Power of Obama’s Face

 

Many people on the blogosphere have taken note of Andrew Sullivan’s ode to Barack Obama in the Atlantic. Sullivan argues that Obama is the only candidate who can break America out of the pro-Vietnam/anti-Vietnam culture war that has gripped America for forty years. The frontrunners, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, whether they like it or not, “are conscripts in their generation’s war. To their respective sides, they are war heroes.”

I’m not sure I agree with Sullivan’s central premise, did I find this supporting argument about Obama interesting:

What does he offer? First and foremost: his face. Think of it as the most effective potential re-branding of the United States since Reagan. Such a re-branding is not trivial—it’s central to an effective war strategy…

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

This is an argument that Obama himself doesn’t make. Perhaps it’s because we’re in highly homogeneous Iowa (read: 96 percent white), but Obama didn’t mention his race once in the time I spent with him. By comparison, Hillary Clinton mentioned her gender on multiple occasions in the time I spent with her. The speakers that introduced her often highlighted it.

The closest Obama came to mentioning his race was in response to a question after the third event he did on the day I followed his campaign. He said that he would be uniquely qualified to resurrect America’s standing the world because he would “put a new face” on American leadership. He has a grandmother who lives in a small village in Kenya. He lived in Indonesia. He can listen to the rest of the world in a way no other politician can, and he can get the rest of the world to listen back.

But never once was the word “black” mentioned, nor “African-American.” Maybe Obama is as “post-race” as some claim, and maybe that’s why he does as well as he does.

 

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