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Internationally, it's all Obama

COMMENTARY | October 31, 2008

The overseas press: Obama’s half hour on TV Wednesday seems to have sealed the deal. A Turkish writer puts it this way: “People want to see a new America.”

By Lauren Drablier

PARISThe international media are officially in a U.S. election-mania-mode.  Newspapers around the world discussed Obama’s purchase of a 30-minute time slot on TV networks Wednesday as much as Americans did.  They reported the Obama-Bill Clinton rally in Florida and many speculated on what an Obama presidency would represent for them.

Most had already voiced their growing enthusiasm and support for an Obama presidency; his infomercial just reaffirmed their support for him.  The fact is, the overseas press by and large sees Obama as a catalyst for much-desired change, and columnists and editorial writers are passionate about it.

Everyday that I spend reviewing what the international press has to say about the election, what becomes more and more evident is that if the rest of the world could vote, it wouldn’t be any contest; Obama would win in a walk. The UK’s Economist published a lengthy article entitled, “It’s Time,” endorsing Obama and stating, “We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America’s self-confidence.”

In Warm response for $4m Obama 'infomercial' the UK’s Independent gives a positive overview of the 30-minute spot:

“The film focused on some of the hard-luck stories of working families in Ohio, New Mexico and Colorado—states where Mr Obama is locked in a final struggle with John McCain. After some 28 minutes of documentary footage, in a feat of some technical brilliance, it cut to a live rally Mr Obama was holding in Florida.

“The McCain campaign harshly criticised the documentary saying it was presumptuous. Spokesman Tucker Bounds said: "As anyone who has bought anything from an infomercial knows, the sales-job is always better than the product. Buyer beware."

“But it received generally favourable reviews. The Obama campaign said it wanted to create a focus for the remaining days of the campaign and to present voters with an image of the candidate looking presidential, hoping that it will encourage them to send him to the White House”

The UK’s Guardian found that Obama’s message of unity was well executed in Obama, the infomercial: A 30-minute pitch to America:

“It was Barack Obama's final opportunity to ask a mass national audience for their votes, and he used it stirringly.

“…the Obama Show - a combination of treacly Hollywood movie and hard-edged documentary - seemed more likely to persuade than to repel.

“But last night's ad was an effort to transcend demographic targeting in favour of a message of unity and common purpose: the Obama campaign's record fundraising, which currently stands at above $600m, has allowed him to pursue both strategies, local and national, simultaneously.”

In Obama's own dream-time, Australia’s The Age had an upbeat review of the infomercial, portraying Obama as the “light at the end of the tunnel” and as someone who can bring hope to everyone, contrasting McCain’s lack of effectiveness at depicting the same image:

“Barack Obama yesterday delivered what he would have hoped was the killer blow to the McCain campaign for the US presidency. It came wrapped in the eternal verities and virtues of the American Dream. Faith, optimism, resilience, resolve and compassion were all part of a television presentation that spoke to everyman and everywoman, despite their differences.

“Obama's 30-minute commercial was also a stark illustration of the huge gap between his campaign's effectiveness in the media and McCain's lack of it. It showed, too, that money brings power.

“The Obama commercial was, in effect, a hall of mirrors in which all Americans could see their own lives, and at the end of that hall, seeping under the door, is the light leading to the Obama presidency.

“Barack Obama: American Stories, American Solutions has the appearance of being ennobling while, in truth, it shows the victims and the savior of the American Dream. We met good, decent folk doing it tough, suffering at the hands of, though it's not said, the Republicans.

“And it worked. If I could, I'd vote for Obama after having seen the commercial. Nothing inspires more than a few wide-angle shots of wheat fields swaying in the breeze, cutting to the American flag as the strings rise and fall. It was a portrait of the heartland, but the heartland is only part of the story off-screen. Obama frequently referred sympathetically to the middle class and, in an understated but almost disdainful way, to the big end of town. The subtext was clear: I'm standing here for the little guy. Together we can make a difference.

“…As a sales pitch it was persuasive, bringing together all the strands of the man — his childhood, upbringing, his wife and children — with his vision, all under either the fluttering of a flag or the blue skies of determined optimism

“Obama's 30 minutes on prime-time TV was a slick, emotional button-pushing exercise in the art of persuasion. Even if McCain had the money to do a similar thing, it would almost certainly fall short of yesterday's effort for one simple reason. Only in the young does hope spring eternal. Obama has time on his side. McCain does not.”

Canada’s The New Republic asks “why was the Obamomercial tonight so fabulous, since so much of it was an expansion of the kind of political pabulum you see on a regular 30-second TV spot?” in An Infomercial Never Felt So Good (So Good, So Good) :

“There were the standard biopic bits, the family visuals, the leader-preaching-to-the-approving-crowds shots…There were endless unsurprising testimonials from pols who've already sounded their Obama love from the rooftops, Deval Patrick and Kathleen Sebelius and Tim Kaine. There was even a quintessentially goofy cameo by Joe Biden. All boilerplate.

“But then there was the quarter of the infomercial that did something I haven't really seen in campaign ads this year. Obama, who's presented himself as so many things this campaign cycle -- activist hero, writer, celebrity -- transformed himself into yet another character: the journalistic chronicler.

“Most man-on-the-street campaign ads let their men on the street speak entirely for themselves; instead, Obama narrated some of the details he'd learned about various worried people he'd met on the trail himself…

“Look, the performance was scripted, so I won't extrapolate too broadly on Obama's actual character from it, but the person he presented himself as tonight was a listener, a gatherer of stories, a reporter, somebody who's interested in the pure, gritty texture of his interlocutors' lives, and not merely in the way their lives happen to illustrate his abstract positions.

“Its goal was to telegraph that he was listening, even to the random people on the trail who -- unlike, say, Joe the Plumber -- were never destined to become symbols.

“Obama's opposing pitch, tonight, was that he's a kind of flypaper, absorbing the world and its ideas to arrive, later, at a more aggregate understanding of how to proceed.

“Just one big disappointment. Why no Republican official in the video?”


In The Barack and Bill roadshow wows Dem partisans. The Times of India notes the importance of their combined effort in the Florida rally:

“Americans finally got to see the Bill and Barack show as Democrats surged towards a possible ideological makeover of the United States on the back of deep economic troubles.

“Two of the most eloquent men in politics, both masters of the uplifting discourse, teamed up for the first time as the party began its final run to recapture the White House and establish a stranglehold on the national agenda for at least four more years.

“Clinton made one of the most understated points in the campaign – an important reason why a young mixed-race man looks set to become the president of the United States. The country’s ethnic and racial profile is changing, and it’s as much evident in Florida as in many states leaning towards Obama.

“Obama on his part was equally effusive about Clinton, calling him a great president and a statesman, and signaling that the wounds between them had healed.

“The Clinton-Obama love-fest came on a day the Democratic front-runner saturated the media with a half-hour infomercial aimed at assuring the American people, especially independents and skeptics, that he could be trusted for the White House

“Some are hoping that there will actually be a backlash against such spending, but that doesn't seem to be happening since it is the electorate itself that is bankrolling Obama.”

Speaking as though Obama were the next president of the United States Germany’s Deutsche Welle presents the mounting challenges that he will have to face in January when he becomes president in Opinion: Obama will go down in history:

“If Barack Obama is elected, the US will wake up to a dramatically different government on Nov. 5, says American Council on Germany president William Drodziak. Despite a tough agenda, Obama will show he's turned the page.

“…attention is turning to what kind of policies Obama will try to execute if and when he occupies the White House after Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

“The fact that the next president will have barely ten weeks to assemble his cabinet and prepare his policy agenda before taking office illustrate the difficult challenge he faces. Many pundits ask indeed why anybody would want a job so fraught with peril.

“Obama has approached this staggering task with cool methodology.

“The global economic crisis has in some respects overwhelmed what was already a daunting foreign policy agenda.

“He has also expressed a desire to show American leadership by embarking on new initiatives in three areas neglected by the Bush administration: climate change, nuclear disarmament, and a ban on torture to show respect for international law like the Geneva Convention. While those policy changes will no doubt be applauded in European capitals, the call for Europe to do more during a phase of economic turmoil in helping the United States may not be greeted with enthusiasm.

“After seeing Republicans tear down regulatory controls in a fit of free market fanaticism, the Democrats want to restore laws that curtailed the role of banks and investment houses.

“In addition, Obama will look at how institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund can be modernized and adapted to a world vastly different from the post World War Two era when they were created.

“But he will surely show that America has turned the page on the Bush presidency by declaring the era of unilateralism is over and that the United States will re-engage with the rest of the world, including direct talks with its enemies, by demonstrating an abiding commitment to diplomacy and the rule of international law.

“In short, America and the world will probably wake up on the morning of Nov. 5 to a dramatically different government taking over in the United States. If Obama can fulfill the hopes and ambitions of the millions of American voters yearning for change, he will go down in history books as a transformational leader who brought the United States back from the precipice of decline as a world power and restored its original sense of purpose as a stalwart defender of democratic values and human rights.”

Germany’s Spiegel Online discusses why Obama’s campaign has rendered him likeable to the American voters in Obama and McCain's Campaigns Are Worlds Apart:

“There is a massive difference between the two campaigns in the final week before the US presidential election. Obama sounds optimistic and presidential. McCain, with more and more people assuming he will lose, is just trying to hold on.

“And so the circle is closed. Obama is now returning to the same lofty rhetoric that he started with 21 months ago in Springfield, the capital of his home state of Illinois. It is a rhetoric that provided early fuel to his campaign, but which also provided his critics with an open flank to attack. Many months have passed since then, during which he has had to learn that in tough times voters are not only moved by inspiration but also by concrete policy proposals.

“But now, in the final stretch, Obama can afford to return to these big abstract messages: He has proven his economic competence -- for most Americans, one of the overriding reasons to vote for him. He has made people feel they know him. He has won the likeability contest.

“Indeed, the campaign of his rival John McCain has had such difficulty gaining traction in recent weeks that Obama could even afford to take two days off from the campaign trail to visit his sick grandmother in Hawaii. McCain was unable to make use of the vacuum.

“It is a long-planned thematic arc, the finale of a clever drama, and nothing can put him off this course.

“The way the two candidates are presenting themselves to the voters says a lot about them and about the quality and state of their campaigns. While Obama is demonstratively acting the statesman, McCain has decided in the face of poor opinion polls to go in the opposite direction.

“The themes of McCain's speeches and appearances have narrowed considerably -- and become much more negative. While Obama is already coming up with scenarios for a new America after Jan. 20, 2009, McCain is still bitterly fighting over the issue of character, over his unfortunate running mate Sarah Palin, and over "Joe the Plumber," his poorly selected symbol of the average American.

“But the plans of the two candidates for election night reveal a lot about the mood in the different camps.

“Obama is hosting an open-air election party in Grant Park in his home town of Chicago, right on Lake Michigan. Mayor Richard Daley is expecting more than a million Obama supporters. McCain has rented the ball room at the luxury Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona. However, he won't make his speech to the guests there, but outside on the lawn to a few handpicked reporters and cameramen.”

In Rejoice! Rejoice! Obama is coming!, the Turkish Daily News offers a Turkish perspective on why the “whole focus is on Obama”:

“Indeed, the election that Americans will hold next week will be basically a vote on Obama. Everybody has seen what the Republicans have done in the past eight years and ultimately few have liked it. Sen. McCain, despite all his effort to the contrary, cannot compel most people to think that he does not share the main premises of the Bush Administration. But Sen. Obama is obviously offering something new and raising new hopes. The only question is whether he is capable of turning them into reality.

“Twenty-four hours is a very long period of time in politics. So, nobody can tell right now who the next president of the United States will be. Yet the polls hint that Obama will have a clear, possibly landslide victory and if that turns out to be the case, most non-Americans in the world, including my humble self, will be happy.

“It is no accident that he has overwhelming support in the four corners of the world. People want to see a new America and only a new face with a new message can make them believe that this is possible.

“Of course, Obama might come to power and fail to realize his promises. But he is definitely worth trying. As Colin Powell has wisely pointed out, his presidency will be an asset not just to restore America's prestige in the word, but also to overcome the new McCarthyism, the Islamophobic hate campaign that a handful of misinformed Americans are trying to sell to their fellow citizens.

“In Turkey, many people who are informed about U.S. politics sympathize with Obama for similar reasons. Some pundits, such as veteran journalist and opinion maker, Cengiz Çandar, endorsed him months ago. But the McCain campaign has sympathizers as well and most of those people are, with all due respect, either wicked or close-minded.

“That is why it is time to cross fingers for Obama. I do hope he wins this election and brings a fresh start that the world sorely needs.”

In Obama wins hearts, but not all minds, in oil-rich Gulf, Dubai’s Zawya underlines the Gulf’s support of Obama in contrast to their comfort with the Republican administration:

"’Everyone without exception prefers Obama,’ said Abdul Aziz Mohammad, a 50-year-old Qatari radio anchor, speaking for his extended family in the tiny state that hosts two US military bases.

"’I feel that Obama is close to the people and to the poor. He's not racist,’ echoed Tahira Sharif, a Bahraini computer analyst.

“Saudi businessman Ahmad Rashed al-Anzan said: ‘Of course I hope Obama will win. We want change after the incumbent US administration which has brought disasters, starting with the occupation of Iraq and ending with the global economic meltdown.’

“’Our hearts are with Obama, our minds are closer to Republicans.’

“Kuwaiti political analyst Ayed al-Manna said that while frontrunner Obama has captured hearts in the Gulf, a Republican administration was more likely to keep Iran and Islamist fundamentalist groups in check.

"’Our feelings and hearts may be with Obama, but our minds and interests place us closer to the Republicans,’ Manna said.

“Saudi analyst Anwar Eshki said Gulf Arab countries traditionally felt closer to US Republicans, but they were disillusioned with the Bush administration and its ‘neo-conservatives’.

“The latter ‘stirred up hatred against Islam and Muslims,’ he said.

“‘Governments and educated elites in the Gulf favour Obama, because he opposes racism and violence,’ said Eshki, who heads a Saudi private think tank.

“’Obama brings a new thinking. We hope he will win.’”

The media are super saturated in excitement about the upcoming election, even in Malaysia where Malaysians voted for Obama in KL's mock poll, Channel NewsAsia highlights what much of the world is saying; if the world could vote, they would vote for Obama:

“As the race to the White House enters its final lap, election fever has also hit many outside the United States.

“Halfway across the globe, in Kuala Lumpur, some Malaysians took part in a mock poll on Friday, jointly organised by the US embassy and a local news daily, The Star.

“Many were eager to see democrat candidate Barack Obama occupy the Oval Office come November 4.

“Many see the 47-year-old African American as a source of inspiration.

"’If we can shift the thing to Malaysia, it will be a great source of inspiration for Malaysians here,’ another added.

“Many said that the multi-racial and multi-religious Malaysia has a lot to learn from the US political system.

“Whatever the outcome is, Malaysians – like many people around the world – will be watching with great enthusiasm when America decides on November 4.”

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