Obamamania Conquers the World

New America Media, Commentary, Andrew Lam Posted: Oct 22, 2008

Editor's Note: New America Media writer Andrew Lam asks if Barack Obama's worldwide popularity has to do with his own global appeal or the world's disappointment with U.S. policy.

When Senator Barack Obama visited Berlin last July, he proclaimed himself a “citizen of the world” to a wildly cheering crowd. Now as the election draws near, the world’s citizens proclaim him as their preferred choice for president.

That terrific magazine, The Economist – too expensive to buy but can be perused while waiting to have one’s wisdom tooth extracted at the dentist – has an interesting interactive map of the world showing which candidate would win if people in various countries voted in the American election. While many are still voting, the total cast so far shows 86 percent for the Obama/Biden ticket and 14 percent for McCain/Palin.

Here are samples of a few countries:

map • Russia: 86 percent for Obama and 14 percent for McCain.

• Germany: 88 percent for Obama and 12 percent for McCain.

• Vietnam: 91 percent for Obama and 9 percent McCain. (These could be seen as surprising numbers in a country where pundits said people have certain affections for the old flyboy who was kept in their prison for five years during the war, but also where three out of four Vietnamese were born after he left Vietnam.)

This finding is consistent with several other polls. The BBC conducted a poll on September 10 and found that global citizens preferred Obama 4-to-1, out of 22,000 people surveyed in 22 foreign countries. A Reader’s Digest magazine poll, released Oct 6, asked 17,000 people in 17 countries – including the U.S. – whom they would like to see elected president. It concluded: “It's a good thing for John McCain that only American citizens can vote in U.S. presidential elections. If the election were held overseas, or even in the rest of North America, the Republican nominee wouldn't stand a chance.”

Besides being overwhelmingly for Obama, the polls also found that – on the average – more than half surveyed are fixated on the American election. Basically, the world is following the American election with vested interest, as if it were the World Cup. World poverty and environmental issues rank top as their concerns.

The trouble for Senator McCain is that he is perceived overseas as continuing the legacy of George W. Bush administration – one in which preemptive strikes are the norm, and whose unilateral actions helped isolate it from the world.

The son and grandson of admirals, John “We Are Winning” McCain becoming the next president would mean the American empire remaining steadfast on its warpath, and therefore, keeping the world out of balance. Since WWI the world has looked to America as champion of human rights and individual freedom, and many remain admirers of our country. But since 9-11, since Guantanamo and condoned abduction (extraordinary rendition) and legalization of certain forms of torture, that perception has been on the wane. It doesn’t help either that the U.S. invaded Iraq under a false pretext.

A McCain presidency can only mean more of the same – more wars overseas, continuing global economic troubles, with a possible confrontation with Russia over the republic of Georgia (which is, incidentally, one of a few countries which solidly prefers McCain to Obama on The Economist’s map) and the possible bombing of Iran, which would lead to the unraveling of the Middle East and beyond.

The world’s only superpower has become a sovereign with permanent economic and political interests, and seems to boast far less idealism than ever before. It makes no apology. It practically screeches its new motto across the globe: might makes right, baby. As the world is hoping for the United States to lead on issues of global warming and poverty, a Republican presidency does not bode well.

If Obama wins, on the other hand, America will be seen as a country that tempers its might with diplomacy, ushering a new era international cooperation, committing to multilateral rather than unilateral actions, and acting more reasonable; and the world, as a result, will again find its even footing.

What does Obama mean for the rest of world?

Hope. He brings back ideals. A son of a foreign student from Kenya and a white mother, raised in Indonesia then by white grandparents in Hawaii, a mixed race child from a humble background with a half sister who’s part Asian and a grandmother still in Kenya – Obama is a citizen of the world. He seems to bridge many spheres all at once. His story astonishes and inspires many and his rise is seen as ushering in a new world in which integration is the norm. With Obama as president of the United States, any kid from any background can now dream big, real big.

Former Secretary of State, Colin Powell, recently endorsed Obama, calling him "a transformational figure." In the eyes of the world, if elected, by virtue of his multiple affiliations, his complex interconnected personal narrative, he will be the first transnational American president as well.

Lam is the author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora.

Related Articles:

Colin Powell’s GOP Payback

Dwindling Hope, Irrelevant Election: Young People Get Their Cynicism Back

How McCain Became MacBeth

NAM 2008 Election Coverage

Watch Vimeo.com hip hop endorsement for Obama:

Obama '08 - Vote For Hope from MC Yogi on Vimeo.

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User Comments

cn on Oct 27, 2008 at 08:54:17 said:

The collective voice of the world seems to be pretty clear in terms of their preference for Obama over McCain to be the U.S.’s next President. For McCain supporters who scoff at such preferences, they should remember that these countries around the world include many of the U.S.’s best allies.

In other words, the U.S. does not live in a global vacuum. The world is getting smaller, every country is increasingly interconnected to every other country, and globalization is happening all around us, and the go-it-alone politics of the past will not work any longer.

The rest of the world seems to recognize these facts and they apparently feel that Obama does as well, much more so than McCain.

ruben on Oct 22, 2008 at 20:49:20 said:

right on!

Isn't it amazing that O's figure is so close to what you, Richard, Sandy, the PNS/NCM/NAM familia has been writing about all these years -- to use Richard's term, a "brown" world? Damn!

yesterday i held my graduate seminar on Dreams from My Father, in a class that had been looking at postcolonial narratives and theory, and the book fit perfectly. Conrad, nationalism, "authenticity," it's all in there...

Of course policy will not flow directly from his narrative -- and I fully expect lots of policy will contradict his narrative -- but the election isn't all about him and the presidency, but about the vast motley crew heretofore on the margins that he perfectly represents in his story...

Tran tuongnhu on Oct 22, 2008 at 16:37:32 said:

Hallo from Ha noi. Alas, most of the Vietnamese I talk to are for McCain, not in an informed sort of way -- but as a knee jerk reaction. They don't think that a "person with black skin" can become President. If the Economist's poll in Viet Nam is true, I rejoice, but it's not been my experience here.
On the other hand, many young people are intrigued with O-bama.

Loan on Oct 22, 2008 at 11:11:21 said:

WHat about the story on why 91% of Vietnam nationals prefer OBama and a large Vietnamese American population prefer McCain. Is it because racism does not apply unless it is your own country or that the Vietnamese in Vietnam are younger and progressive and the VN in america are older and stagnant?

antoinne on Oct 21, 2008 at 22:45:00 said:

With respect to Obama, your article touches on issues close to my little heart. Happy to share my brilliant insights one of these days, but thought I'd write one here -- I have find it somewhat ironic to see the support for Obama in Europe, to the extent that some of it is based on his mixed race heritage; I would venture that it will be quite a while before a black person heads France (as opposed to populates its National soccer team, les Bleus), before a person with a Turkish last name heads Germany, or ... anyway.




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