Brand Obama

It's official—Time magazine has once again named Barack Obama its "Person of the Year". Obama's re-election efforts ensured that his name stuck to TV channels, newspapers and blogs globally. And now, in contrast to the weak-kneed liberal, there is an emboldened negotiator basking in soaring poll rates. Has Barack the brand, once dismissed as an anomaly, finally become something ethereal? For one, like Ronald Reagan before him and FDR before that, Obama would be remembered for changing the direction of the American political discourse. FDR, in the wake of the Great Depression, made welfare and regulation acceptable, while Reagan pioneered the neoliberal campaign to reduce the state's role in the economy. Obama, with an industrial policy that unleashed a bevy of green industries (the $700 billion stimulus), financial regulation and a universal healthcare legislation, may have inaugurated the return of the smart government, which levels the playing field through a social safety net. Moreover, being the first President to publicly endorse the right for homosexuals to marry, he may be the most socially liberal President ever. Nevertheless, a highly partisan Congress, coupled with soaring debt and close-to-no action on climate change (the most pressing global problem) blemishes the otherwise fair record.

But making people believe in the efficacy of government will never wholly explain Obama's enduring appeal, nor can his soaring rhetoric. The answer has to lie in Barack Obama, the symbol. An African-American son of a single not-so-rich mother, with an incredibly odd name for a country with a rich Protestant past, reaching the White House appears to be a perfect testament to the American dream. And it was only cemented with his re-election. Mitt Romney, with a rich childhood and Governor-daddy, stood little chance. It is, as they often like to quip, history at work.

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