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What Price Popularity?

- Abstract

Barack Obama entered the White House riding a wave of popularity around the world unparalleled in recent political history. His margin of victory among American voters in last November’s presidential election was 6 percentage points; outside the United States, however, Obama was favored over his Republican rival John McCain by huge majorities. Obama himself seized on the global attraction to his candidacy and in July 2008 took an unprecedented break from the campaign trail to embark on a seven-nation tour. Its ostensible purpose was to demonstrate his diplomatic bona fides to voters back home, but it was also meant to give a foretaste of the international goodwill America would enjoy under his presidency. The trip culminated in a speech before an enthusiastic, 200,000-strong crowd in Berlin in which Obama declared himself a “fellow citizen of the world.”

Obama’s dominant foreign-policy promise was that he would work to repair America’s “tarnished image” and improve its “moral stature” around the world, to which so much damage had been done by the two-term presidency of George W. Bush. In his speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008, Obama said that, if elected, he would “restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.” This, his supporters insisted, was the foremost national priority.

About the Author

James Kirchick, based in Berlin, is a fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a contributing editor to the New Republic.