October 20, 2009
Somehow I missed it. Bono (yes the rock star) alerted me in a New York Times op-ed on Saturday: the same week Obama won the Nobel Prize, America was found to be the world’s most admired country, marking a seven-spot leap and the biggest jump a country has made in the history of the National Brands Index Survey.
Ten months ago America looked like toast. Now it’s the toast of the town.
The quick answer is, Obama happened. “There is no other explanation,” Simon Anholt, the founder of NBI told Reuters.
Obama is in fact just part of the story.
The other key factor is that the world is rediscovering its inner feelings. You heard that right. During the Bush years global contempt for the US obscured the love and admiration that has traditionally tempered that resentment, that has made for a rocky but enduring marriage.
Buried beneath the tangle of outrage and trauma, there has remained a yearning for America: that grand idea, symbolizing hope for a stable, just, progressive world, that has more than occasionally delivered on that promise, that the world instinctively turns to whenever dark clouds amass on the horizon. As Bono wrote on Saturday: “The idea of America, from the very start, was supposed to be contagious enough to sweep up and enthrall the world. And it is.”
Obama’s success has been to work in symbiosis with that contagion – to help the world see past the two-term presidency and reconnect us with the historical narrative.
One may scoff at the survey’s findings ( conducted by GFK Roper Public Affairs & Media, involved 20,000 people in 20 rich and developing countries around the globe, who were asked to rate 50 nations in areas such as culture, governance, people, tourism, and education). My own work as a reporter attests to the unreliability of opinion polls. But here’s one that mirrors numerous discussions and observations I’ve collected living abroad: America is no longer the global bogeyman but seen once again as a big part of the solution.
Still, some will argue that the rebranding is a matter of style (Obama) over substance (world-altering policies). But as any brander will tell you, you can’t manufacture a brand out of thin air; there has to be meat on the bones. And America could not possibly narrow the credibility gap with a cynical world if there weren’t.
As the Irish rocker noted: “the [Obama] Administration’s approach to fighting nuclear proliferation and climate change, improving relations in the Middle East and, by the way, creating jobs and providing health care at home, are rebranding in action.”
America needs to do more. The world will demand it, and not altogether unreasonably. For as much as America is the key to solving most of the world’s major ills, it has, from climate change to the global financial crisis, been part of the problem.
But, for a start, America is cooperating and leading again, and as the world is rediscovering, it’s hard not to admire a little something about that.