Barack Hussein Obama may be the first president who is actually a brand. So it's rather amazing that he is also one of the most popular brands on the planet. It's spilling over into every aspect of life - and, contrary to the sense of the word "brand" as an advertising gimmick, a commercialization of what should have "deeper" value, it's making things better wherever it goes.
On a business trip to Miami and Orlando, I noticed in the hotel lobby a large group of - maybe Lithuanians? - people, dressed like businesspeople, who spoke some Germano-Russian-sounding language, who were all smiling, enthusiastic, and chanting. Yes, chanting "Obama! Obama! Obama! Obama!..."
What was this all about? Or the news article out of Orlando about Obama being a "hit" throughout the Caribbean Islands:
Radio stations across the Caribbean are tuning into U.S. politics, broadcasting rapper and reggae songs celebrating Barack Obama's victory. "Black Man Redemption" by Rapper Tony Rebel, "Yes We Can" by Reggae singer Cocoa Tea and "The Obama Song" by rapper Tyrical are dominating the airwaves in Jamaica. Trinidadians, meanwhile, are enchanted by "Barack the Magnificent," a creation of Calypso legend Mighty Sparrow.Antiguans are singing along with "Barack We Love You," by native calypso singer King Short Shirt.
Followed by a page of letters from local elementary students asking questions directed to the President-Elect. And meanwhile, back in Columbia, the people are "looking forward" to Obama's presidency.
Of course, we know already how excited Africans are for their "native son". Not to mention his unprecedentedly enthusiastic and massive reception in Berlin. But what about China? Hands down - he's an "overwhelming hit" there where last October,
an online poll conducted on China Daily's website by the US embassy, shows Obama enjoys the support of 75 percent among the Chinese.
We know that the name "Obama" tastefully included in any product name is, to borrow a Blogojovitchism, "golden" - spikes sales exponentially. It's just a superlative brand that connotes all that's good about humanity.
What better representation for the United States after years of eroded-to-zilch public image? It's gotten so bad that friends of mine pretend not to be American when at cafes in, say, the Netherlands, so as not to receive dirty looks and bad prices. Even more, the Obama brand incites people to almost-lunatic enthusiasm, joy, hope, action.... good stuff, that.
So, the Top Ten Reasons Why:
1. When you're on the precipice, you need balance. President-elect Obama has balance. Lots of it. Nobody else comes close. And that inspires more balance in others. Weigh the two sides, find a fair solution, be willing to compromise, talk about it, balance your emotions with your mind... Pretty transformative, that! Helps when you're hanging on the edge of an economic, ecological, and otherwise...cliff.
2. Nothing combats depression like inspiration. Obama just walks into a room, and people get inspired. But it's not merely charisma, or oratory. He represents overcoming impossible odds, challenges, achieving the Impossible Dream by hard work and incremental success. He also represents overcoming oppression, a locked-in-steel status quo, a power structure that seems insurmountable, a nasty social attitude in the air, a neocon warmongering mania that nobody can seem to get rid of...and everything you need to get back on your feet in a crisis. Nobody else means "Yes We Can" quite like Obama.
3. He's one of us. He has this amazing ability to identify with Everyman, Everywoman, in Everycountry, while maintaining his American identity. People have this feeling that he understands them, personally. That he cares about them, about what happens to them. He succeeded to have a mass personal relationship with not all, but many on the planet. Maybe it's just lack of pretense, and being down to earth. And something else... je n'sais quoi.
4. When the world is in turmoil, we need someone with an even keel. It's that incredible, unflappable temperament, that pulled Obama through the election process, and that we all hope will pull us through the critical, dangerous days ahead.
5. A brilliant mind: that human gift, and responsibility. Obama has a great mind, and better yet, he actually uses it responsibly. When the challenges get tough, it's not enough to just "get going", as we have seen. It needs a great mind to intelligently work our way through complex issues. No sycophant will do any more. So for Obama to represent the best of the mind does us a world of good. Smart is cool again. Finally.
6. Flexibility, willingness to cooperate. This is essential to building goodwill in world affairs, as well as domestic ones. We've suffered too long through ill will, divisiveness, and "us" vs. "them". The results have been catastrophic. Democracy without cooperation is not democracy. It's a failed state.
7. Obama is a multicultural success story. He blends continents, wildly varying cultures from Kansas to Hawaii to Indonesia, plus of course, Africa, and yet it all somehow works into a very superior "product". He therefore gives us hope that although we are all very different, the common bond is nonetheless intact, and that very diversity contributes toward strength. This is a boon to people against inbreeding, Us v. Them, etc.
8. When we've been sitting on a Ponzi scheme, thinking ourselves rich and powerful, it really helps to find someone with genuine core integrity. Solid ethics. Trustworthiness. Honesty. The high ground. Making good on promises - not just for PR, but just because it's right. Wow, now that's downright refreshing! Barack Obama, from his loving domestic relations with his wife and daughters and other relations, to his making good on promises, to his clean and democratically-run campaign, to his thoughtful, honest relationships with others in government as well as campaigners and those in "Main Street", is the absolute epitome of One Good Man. Not some idealized idol, just a regular guy who works very hard to do things right, and has very high standards.
The net result? Obama made being righteous very, very cool. Bring it on! Which brings us to
9. Pres-elect Obama is just, simply very, very cool. This is an intangible. It's God-given. It's something you either have, or don't have. It may be the "aura" of all of the above. But it's also because he's always working to stay in touch with what's going on around him. He knows technology and uses it. He knows the language, the songs, the music, the culture of everyday Americans. He may not know bowling and country music. But that's OK, because he's cool with what he knows. He goes above and beyond a specific culture, by virtue of his multicultural background added to his being "one of us", added to his cooperative stance, taken to another level by his intelligence. It's everything rolled together in a way that simply ... works.
We're dog tired of things that don't work. And people who make them not work.
10. And at last, Obama resurrects the work ethic. Hard work is part of his success story, and it's not only something that's true, that people can relate to, but it's also very good for the economy. After all, work is how economies are ultimately built - not merely by investing money, that essentially fake/representative thing, but investing actual work. Instead of encouraging people to spend, we find ourselves inspired to sweat. It's very basic, and being enthusiastic about it makes it far more likely to succeed. After all, what's work without a motive? The profit motive just won't cut it any more.
As we watch the incredible scene of President-elect Barack Obama taking the oath of office, and all that goes with it, no one can help but be amazed at how it all got put together, and how one man came to symbolize so much in one unimaginably critical moment. This is a "brand" that will go down in history in more ways than ten. And that can't help but be good for America, and I hope, the world.