The Magazine

Globaloney, Obama-Style

The candidate as worldwide celebrity.

Apr 28, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 31 • By WALLER R. NEWELL
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Barack Obama appears to be America's first homegrown global candidate. His core constituency is the New Age tribe of the Internet, which promotes the illusion that we can now start to live in "a world without borders." A posting by an African from Italy on the official Obama '08 website, featured under the headline "For a Cosmopolitan Humanism," reads: "In this Global Era, we need a new vision for a cosmopolitan humanism, that ingredient necessary for peace and justice: Barack Obama embodies this hope."

Similar sentiments abound in the blogosphere. Senator Obama received an A-plus rating from Citizens for Global Solutions, which "envisions a future in which nations work together to abolish war, protect our rights and freedoms, and solve the problems facing humanity that no nation can solve alone. This vision requires effective democratic global institutions." On Care2, a blog devoted to "green living, health, human rights [and] protecting the environment," a self-described Kiwi woman living on the Isle of Man writes: "It should be Barack Obama for the world, not just the USA. We are a global society now."

At his enormous rallies, the distinction between American politician and global celebrity comes close to breaking down. Obama merges the roles. As America's first global candidate, he has about him the aura of a millenarian figure, the leader of a mass movement. In its early stages, the Obama movement was heavily campus-driven, resembling student upheavals like the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s and the antiglobalization movement of more recent years. Like them, Obama '08 wants to "heal this nation" and "remake this world as it should be."

To that end, Obama promises a "new kind of leadership," devoid of the grubby wheeling-dealing of ordinary politics. That is why his campaign rhetoric consists largely of abstract nouns like hope, peace, change, and dialogue, generalities that everyone is for. At times, he verges on fantasy, as in his belief that he can work out America's differences with Iran through direct talks with Iranian president Ahmadinejad without preconditions. By the same token, people all over the world with leftist leanings see in Obama just such a global savior, as if his mere election could alleviate poverty and injustice everywhere.

His closest predecessor in American politics is not the hawkish cold warrior John F. Kennedy, with whom he shares little beyond a youthful vigor and bodily grace, but Jimmy Carter, who also tended to believe that talking to America's foes would be enough to bring peace and that America itself was too often the chief source of the world's problems. Both men share a taste for Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who believed that politics should be an act of penance for America's sins at home and abroad. Obama's willingness to abandon one ally overnight (Iraq) while invading another (Pakistan) also savors of -Carter's tendency to think America's allies or beneficiaries were more deserving of reproach than its open enemies.

Social scientists and political activists are agog at what they hail as the "new global civil society," and Obama's core constituency is the American branch of this new International. His most fervent follower is the kind of Democrat, affluent and conventionally well educated, who sees himself as belonging less to his own country than to an emerging global community of the enlightened, believers in world peace, the environment, and "talking" to others, including lethal enemies, all in the conviction that the nation-state is an outmoded product of global capitalism, greed, and shabby compromise. In this view of things, America, as the world's most powerful nation-state, is the chief impediment to the flowering of a new world order.

Obama's penchant for cheerleading slogans reminiscent of a 12-step program ("Yes we can!") is in tune with his appeal to young people, who have little experience of life's ironies, who may not have noticed how often the sweep of history frustrates good intentions. They are, after all, the product of an educational system that has increasingly abandoned the teaching of narrative history and the distinction between democracy and tyranny in favor of a fuzzy globalism that casts us all as citizens of a coming world community of the ecologically conscious and antimaterialistic.