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People see in Obama what they want to see - that's a blessing and a curse

Last Tuesday a 25-year-old white student was wandering around Union Square in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of
 when she was set upon by four black teenage girls who pushed her, pulled out her earphones, and spat in her face. She was wearing a T-shirt proclaiming "Obama is my slave" that she had bought from Apollo Braun's Lower East Side store in Manhattan.

This isn't the first controversial T-shirt Braun has printed about the Democratic presidential hopeful, Barack Obama. His body of work includes such slogans as "Jews Against Obama", "Obama = Hitler" and "Who Killed Obama?" - which he told New York's Metro was his most popular yet.

When questioned about the message that he is putting out, Braun insists these are not his views but those of the rest of America. "For a lot of people, when they see Obama, they see a slave. People think America is not ready for a black president," he said. Not people like him, he says, insisting that Obama's race is "the only thing I like about him. He opens the door for other minorities" - but "ordinary Wasps", with whom, it turns out, Braun has more in common than he cares to admit. "I can't stand Obama," he says, comparing him to Hitler, because "he is a Muslim".

Obama is not a Muslim. Nonetheless, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 a recent Pew research survey, 12% of Americans still believe that he is. Another 10% say they have "heard different things". This is why the New Yorker cartoon portraying Obama as a flag-burning terrorist wasn't that funny. For satire to work, it has to be edgy. It fails when it misjudges where the edge is. When, according to another survey, one in five Democrats with a negative opinion of Obama believes he is a Muslim, we are not talking isolated pockets but mainstream public opinion.

"It's hard to ignore what you hear when everybody you know is saying it," Jim Peterman Pe´ter`man

n. 1. A fisherman; - so called after the apostle Peter.
, from Findlay, Ohio Findlay is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hancock CountyGR6. The municipality is located in northwestern Ohio approximately 50 miles (80 km) south of Toledo. The population was 38,967 at the 2000 census. , told the Washington Post recently, having heard various accounts of Obama's lack of patriotism and extreme Islamic views. "These are good people, smart people, so can they really all be wrong?"

"The way we see things is affected by what we know and what we believe," wrote John Berger in Ways of Seeing. "The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled."

Herein lies both Obama's greatest asset and biggest problem. In the past six months, it has become patently clear people see in him whatever they want to see. After being told his parents' race and nationality, more than half (55%) of white people said he was biracial bi·ra·cial  
1. Of, for, or consisting of members of two races.

2. Having parents of two different races.

 while two-thirds of African-Americans said he was black, according to a Zogby poll. A New York Times poll last week showed two-thirds of black people believe he is very patriotic while one in five whites believe he is not very patriotic.

The division is not just racial but ideological. Liberals refer to him as though he represents a second coming. The left sees him as a disappointment waiting to happen. Hillary Clinton's team tried to paint him as a condescending sexist. Jesse Jackson Noun 1. Jesse Jackson - United States civil rights leader who led a national campaign against racial discrimination and ran for presidential nomination (born in 1941)
Jesse Louis Jackson, Jackson
 wants to cut his nuts off.

These contradictions are arguably true of all politicians, but they seem truer of Obama than most. He must be the only "radical Islamist" whose biggest scandal to date has arisen from membership of the Trinity United Church of Christ United Church of Christ, American Protestant denomination formed in 1957 by a merger of the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches (see Congregationalism) and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. . Depending on what Kool-Aid you have been drinking, when it comes to Obama your glass is either half full, half empty or overflowing, or you've smashed it lest anybody else imbibes its poison.

People come to Obama with extraordinary amounts of baggage and dump it at his door. For the most part their responses to him tell you far more about them than they do about him.

And so it is that his world tour heads to Europe, to what most predict will be a lively and rapturous rap·tur·ous  
Filled with great joy or rapture; ecstatic.

raptur·ous·ly adv.
 reception from huge and hopeful crowds. Germany's Der Spiegel Der Spiegel (The Mirror) is Europe's biggest and most influential weekly magazine, published in Hamburg, with a circulation of more than one million per week, having a readership of an estimated 6.5 million.  magazine has referred to him as the messiah. It is not difficult to see why. The damage George Bush has done to the world's view of America is both pervasive and profound. In a global survey of 27 countries conducted by Pew in 2000, 25 had a favourable view of America. Last month, in a similar survey of 24 countries, that number was down to seven.

On the world stage, America's misfortune has become Obama's opportunity. Most Europeans see him not just as Bush's likely successor but as his absolute negation - the anti-Bush. Where the current president is belligerent, parochial, indifferent and oafish oaf  
A person regarded as stupid or clumsy.

[Old Norse alfr, elf, silly person; see albho- in Indo-European roots.
, Obama is conciliatory con·cil·i·ate  
v. con·cil·i·at·ed, con·cil·i·at·ing, con·cil·i·ates
1. To overcome the distrust or animosity of; appease.

, worldly, curious and refined. When it comes to the forthcoming elections, 23 of those 24 nations preferred Obama to John McCain.

Europeans think they are going to see Kennedy. The difference is that when Kennedy arrived in Europe in 1963, he had been president for three years - Obama is still trying to get elected, and Europeans don't get to vote. Indeed, the intense interest in the elections and enthusiasm for Obama in Europe reveals a real geopolitical ge·o·pol·i·tics  
n. (used with a sing. verb)
1. The study of the relationship among politics and geography, demography, and economics, especially with respect to the foreign policy of a nation.


The past seven years have shown European governments able to frustrate America's excesses but not to thwart them. The issue is not solely that Europe has failed to present an effective challenge to America - a question of power - but that it has yet to come up with a coherent ideological alternative to it: a question of ideas.

America is nowhere near as excited about Obama as Europe is. So Europeans are left rooting on the sidelines On the sidelines

An investor who decides not to invest due to market uncertainty.

on the sidelines

Of or relating to investors who, having assessed the market, have decided to avoid committing their funds.
 in the hope that middle America (which is where most elections are decided) will make a better choice about who it thinks should run the world than it did last time. For Europeans, Obama's appearance has the palliative effect of methadone methadone (mĕth`ədōn', –dŏn'), synthetic narcotic similar in effect to morphine. Synthesized in Germany, it came into clinical use after World War II. It is sometimes used as an analgesic and to suppress the cough reflex.  - taking the edge off a long-term dependency.

In Obama they see a paradigm shift A dramatic change in methodology or practice. It often refers to a major change in thinking and planning, which ultimately changes the way projects are implemented. For example, accessing applications and data from the Web instead of from local servers is a paradigm shift. See paradigm. . But if he wins, what they will get, in the words of the former president Warren Harding, is a "return to normalcy nor·mal·cy  

Noun 1. normalcy - being within certain limits that define the range of normal functioning
". Obama is not a radical, he is a mainstream Democrat - a party that in any other western nation would find itself on the right on foreign policy, the centre on economic policy, the centre-left on social policy.

When it comes to international affairs, he will be a huge improvement on Bush and much better than McCain. That takes him a long way from the parlous place where America is now. But his current platform will still leave America a considerable distance from where most Europeans who come out to greet him would like it to be.

This would matter more if they thought their own leaders could do any better. But Obama's other asset right now is the pathetic state of European leadership. He arrives in a continent whose unifying project has been stalled by the Irish and is based in a country that is falling apart - Belgium.

With the exception of Angela Merkel, riding high on folksy folk·sy  
adj. folk·si·er, folk·si·est Informal
1. Simple and unpretentious in behavior.

2. Characterized by informality and affability: a friendly, folksy town.

 popularity, he will meet leaders (Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy) who are not much more popular than Bush. So Obama's arrival gives Europeans a chance to be passionate about politics - a feeling they have not had for a long time. In Obama, they pine for something they have singularly failed to produce - a politician who inspires them and a politics of hope.
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Date:Jul 21, 2008
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