A funny thing happened as I was watching President Obama's press conference with Prime Minister Harper in Ottawa: I did not cringe with embarrassment.
It may seem like an odd admission at first. After all, everybody knows by now that Obama is comfortable on the public stage--at ease with teleprompter and off-the-cuff alike--and expert at framing key concepts to shape and lead a pragmatic debate.
And yet, after 8 years of pulling my hair out in large clumps each time George W. Bush stood at a press conference with another world leader, I feel a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders by the mere fact that Obama was not embarrassing. Policy positions aside: what a relief to not feel utterly humiliated as a citizen after watching our Commander in Chief take the foreign stage.
I know others felt the same way.
For example, I noticed at the Ottawa press conference that nobody in the room stood up, shouted something threatening, and then threw their shoes at our president. Based on my anthropological expertise of cross-cultural behavior, I can verify with relative certainty that not throwing shoes at a world leader is a universal sign of not being overcome with frustration and annoyance. I also noticed that Obama did not butcher any words in the English language, resulting in many people not laughing at him and not telling jokes depicting him as a fool.
Not cringing at the president when he is abroad may seem like an insignificant thing relative to the details of the Recovery Act or troop levels in Afghanistan or benchmarks on lowering carbon emissions. Still, imagine the impact of these non-cringe-worthy presidential press conferences abroad. Each time President Obama stands on the global stage, waves of non-embarrassment and non-frustration will wash over millions and millions of people like a warm and relaxing mist. "My goodness," the world will whisper to itself. "This new American president does not make us uncontrollably anxious."
Now, here at home there are some in the broadcast media who are trying very hard to repackage each of President Obama's appearances as threatening or disconcerting. These pundits are trying to convince the public to be nervous and concerned when Obama speaks at home or abroad. It is not working.
The fact is, a new reality is emerging each time our President speaks, and with that reality a new feeling. Like Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, when President Obama speaks to the public, either at home or abroad, members of the public feel distinctly different than they felt over the past 8 years. They feel--positive.
This positive feeling is a combination of two things all rolled into one. We are relieved that the recent era of American presidential ignorance and jingoism is over and we are amazed that the voice of an American president can once again light up a room, no matter what the lingua franca of the room may be.
Combined with Secretary of State Clinton's diplomatic emphasis on 'smart' foreign policy, President Obama's ability to not make people cringe when he speaks is a powerful tool, and will be the key to advancing a vast array of important policy changes. It is hard to imagine how it could not be.
No matter how unsavory political debate may seem here at home, particularly as the next stage of Obama's recovery bill gets chewed up like an old slipper by Congressional Republicans and the right-wing media--remember the feeling that flowed from Obama's press conference in Ottawa, today.
A little non-cringing at our President abroad may just go a long way towards changing the world.
(cross-posted from Frameshop)