During the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago, a common chant of protesters was “the whole world’s watching.” It was meant as a defiant warning to the cops confronting them: if the cops rioted – which they did – their actions would be seen on TV news around the world.
That was something of a novelty at the time – the idea that satellite communications had reached the point that images on TV could be beamed to other places. Of course, in today’s metalinked world, their sense of global connection now seems as quaint as a Model T.
Back in early December I wrote about how the world has become smaller. At the time, a relevant example was how folks around the world responded to the election results. But this week’s Presidential Inauguration has given us another look at this phenomena.
The NY Times report pointed to this global awareness:
Speaking directly to the millions who crowded around televisions across the world as much as to Americans, Mr. Obama said the United States was “ready to lead once more” despite the ravages of protracted wars and a depleted economy.
While noting that many around the world were thrilled with the new President, the Times noted that others had misgivings:
In the days leading up to the inauguration, many politicians, academics, opinion leaders and others spoke to correspondents of The New York Times around the world about Mr. Obama in terms verging on euphoria. But they also sounded warnings that the expectations were too high and that the world might discover that Mr. Obama is hemmed in by some of the unyielding realities that had frustrated his predecessor, compounded now by the worldwide recession and what it has done to diminish America’s reputation as a model of free-market prosperity.
Some reports on global reaction to the inauguration seemed more upbeat than others. The Washington Post offered glimpses of hope from places like Kenya:
“When people speak of Obama, we don’t say he’s Luo Obama,” said Ogega, 27, referring to Obama’s Kenyan ethnic group. “We say he’s Kenyan. We hope he will help us see each other as Kenyans instead of certain tribes.”
Not far away, Kadiro Ganemo, an Ethiopian immigrant, suggested that such hope stretches beyond Kenya.
“He’s not just for Kenya — he’s for the whole world,” said Ganemo, 28, who is not a student but joined the celebration because he didn’t want to watch alone at home.
The BBC offered more circumspect reports, many from American rivals like Cuba, China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. Many of those reports reflected longstanding tensions and skepticism that have existed between America and other countries.
But the BBC’s report from Indonesia revealed one way in which Barack Obama will be viewed differently than any previous American President. His multi-ethnic background, as well as his background growing up in different places around the world, may make him uniquely qualified for leading in today’s shrinking world:
The ordinariness of Barack Obama’s childhood here has impressed Indonesians. Many of them are sure that the four years he spent in Indonesia shaped his world view – that we are going to see very different American policies on Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East – a new approach, in fact, to the Muslim world.
He will be met with high expectations here – as elsewhere. And running through it all is a huge sense of pride, a feeling shared by many Indonesians that, as one man put it, Barack Obama “somehow belongs to us”.