The Corner

On Being Liked . . .

In one sense, we should all be happy that Obama — it is undeniable — has improved America’s standing in the polls taken abroad.

But what might account for such a radical turn-about in America’s image in such a short time, other than the fact that a young, charismatic, and eloquent African-American is now the titular head of the U.S. instead of an older, white, Christian guy with a Texas accent who says “nuclar”? Not being George Bush helped, but there is clearly something more going on to account for such markedly improved attitudes about America.


I think the answer is pretty clear: The world likes us when we admit that it was a mistake to take out Saddam Hussein; it likes us when confess to two centuries of systematic sinning and agree that we are no longer all that exceptional; it likes us when we at least verbally agree to sign on to the mass transfers of wealth in cap-and-trade European-style environmentalism; it likes us when we talk up the U.N. and rejoin the Human Rights Commission; it likes us when we distance ourselves from the hated Zionist entity; the world also likes us when we reach out to Ahmadinejad, Assad, the Castros, Chavez, Putin, and other dictators and totalitarians that are the norms in much of the world; and it likes us when it feels that we are adopting more statist policies akin to many states abroad. In other words, the more we resemble at least some of the popular attitudes of those in Asia, Africa, South America, and in Europe, the more we are liked.


Do all that, and it doesn’t much matter whether you support democratic movements, or give billions in AIDS relief to Africa, or help tens of thousands suffering from natural disasters, or have the most open and  non-discriminatory immigration policy in the world. 


The real key to being a popular America seems to be to empathize with non-Western totalitarians, to move away from Israel, and to suggest that criticism of the U.S. is right on — and, in other words, to end the two-centuries-long notion that what made the United States utterly unique and an oasis on the world scene was its often lonely antithesis to what went on almost everywhere else. Being popular is being like most others.


In the late nineteenth century, we were written off as a simmering cauldron of the world’s unwanted by both Left and Right; by the 1930s we were odd man out in comparison to the strong-man wave that swept over Europe and much of Asia; in the 1940s–’80s, we were thought to be on the wrong side of the socialist euphoria of the Soviet- and Chinese-inspired Third World.


In each case, a singular constitution and tradition of freedom made us suspect in the eyes of others, and in turn wary of them as well. I guess now that “exceptionalism” has officially passed, we have become one with the world in spirit and attitude — and so have become liked as never before.