Andrew Sullivan Ruminates on the Power of Obama’s Face

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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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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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