When I ask my Korean co-workers about Mitt Romney, they simply remark that he is a "rich man." One teacher simply responded, "I want to meet Obama," which didn't answer my question.
This past week, one of my co-workers came up to me to express that she was impressed with the way that President Obama handled the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Even aside from the hurricane, President Obama has an apparently favorable image in the eyes of the people I know here in Korea. They see him as an articulate leader who is open to international dialogue, and they feel that he has the best interest of Korea at heart. Despite South Korea being a very small country, its connection to the United States has grown during the Obama administration with the signing of a Free Trade Agreement. They are very interested in the outcome of this election and its implications for their country. Everyone I talk to has faith that President Obama will be the best man for the job.
During the eight years that Bush was in office, the image of America abroad took a pretty hard hit. In Bush's last year in office, I spent some time volunteering in a village in Peru. A farmer took me to see his donkey tied behind the shed. He pointed at it and said, “His name is Bush.”
Under Bush, we were an imperialist nation with fading power. President Obama came into office and single-handedly reversed the image of America abroad back to what it was at the end of the Clinton years. During his four-years in office, Obama has changed America into a country that is seen as having a more progressive direction forward to many countries throughout the world. The idea of ‘American democracy’ is becoming increasingly popular with young people across the world and our neighbors in Europe, South America and Asia are supporting Obama as a candidate who will move America in a positive direction. We went from being imperialist to a country slightly less imperial.
A president's job is rather trivial. While he does sit at the helm of our country, so many of the institutions that run our day-to-day lives are largely on auto-pilot. The president has next to nothing in terms of influence over them.
The economy is a good example. There is nothing that Romney could do on his first day in office to turn the tide of our economic recession faster than President Obama could. The economy is much too big of an entity with far too many variables to effectively manipulate in real time. Trends take time. The president’s role is most like that of cheerleader; the man himself really doesn’t matter, but the image that he creates does.
Keeping this in mind, let's shift back to the world stage. When Obama took office, the world (with the exception of the Middle East)took a sip of the Obama Kool-Aid.But what’s wrong with a nice refreshing sip of Kool-Aid? Isn't that all a president is? A different variety of Kool-Aid?
In analyzing Pew's international polls forthe president and America, it hard to ignore the tremendous affect Obama has had in terms of projecting a positive and progressive vision of America. Obama's image has overwhelmingly resonated with our neighbors in Europe, South America and Asia (with the exception of China).
The vast majority of European countries have sizable margins of approval when it comes to the way that Obama has worked with other nations on economic problems. More people like America’s ways of doing business now than four years ago. Polls even show that more people like “American views of democracy” now compared to four years ago.
(It is also worth noting that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has a very favorably image across all of Europe, except Greece, Japan, India and Brazil.) The Obama administration and America as a whole are especially popular in the 18-29 age bracket. The image of Obama and the image he projects of America represents a positive direction for our country to continue moving in the next four years.
As the world continues to grow into a more inter-connected community, having a good working relationship with countries all over the world will help to overcome environmental challenges, economic recession and conflicts. This is especially true for our allies in Europe who have a very favorable opinion of the president. (Check out Germany.)
Certainly, no one president is perfect. The scope of what one man can do is absolutely limited. Despite the work that Obama has done in office, which is a notable list compared to any president, he has not turned our country around fast enough for some. Still, for European nations, confidence in Obama as a president remains high at the end of his four years in office, on average about 8 points higher than Bush’s numbers in 2008 across the board. Further, his popularity remains high in Japan, with a 74% vote of confidence.
Given four more years, President Obama is sure to make more headway than Mitt Romney in dealing with climate change (a weak area for Obama in the international poll). The president’s approval has also fallen slightly across the international board since 2009 as a result of ‘drone strikes.’ Meanwhile, the strikes remain popular domestically, with a 62% approval rating from the American public.
Heading to the polls on Tuesday, keep in mind that President Obama has made significant headway in the perception of America with our neighbors overseas. The image of America as a world partner as opposed to a world police officer will become increasingly important in the next four years. Obama is still a candidate who has a vision for the future, and the majority of the world still has confidence that he is the right man for the job.