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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Dissecting Obamania


With over 1 million people attending his inauguration and 100,000 Europeans packed to hear him speak in Berlin, it is safe to say that the entire world has been swept up by President Barack Obama.

Peter Katzenstein, professor of International Studies at Cornell University, discussed the world's apparent obsession with Obama in front of hundreds of UB students last week with his lecture, "Obamania and Anti-Americanism: The United States and the World in the 21st Century."

Katzenstein began his lecture by discussing the phenomenon of the craze. According to Katzenstein, Obama achieved overwhelming support both in the United States and abroad during his campaign by promising change for the better.

"Obama is the politician of a lifetime," Katzenstein said. "He has incredible skills and charisma at the same time. He stands for change in American society. In some ways, he represents a dream."

Katzenstein believes that Obamania stems from a "collective fantasy" held about America. Throughout history, many viewed the U.S. as a dreamland in which anything is possible.

Despite the high hopes Americans have about Obama in office, Katzenstein doubts that this new presidency will transform the world.

"The Obama presidency may leave an imprint. It may become as deep an imprint on the world as Tiger Woods on golf. But it will not transform," Katzenstein said.

Katzenstein believes that the victory of the Democratic Party in the 2008 presidential election is not enough to stimulate world change.

"The notion that we've gone through a transformation is mistaking victory on one side for transformation of the world," he said.

Contrary to what some have suggested, having a black president in office does not mean that racism no longer exists in the U.S., according to Katzenstein.

"Racism is part of who we are," Katzenstein said. "We haven't overcome that because of Obama's victory. Obama's winning does not eliminate racism in our society."

Katzenstein also spoke about anti-Americanism. He began by going back in history to the era of colonization. According to Katzenstein, when the French first colonized the Americas, they viewed it as an abomination rather than a fantasy world and found the language and culture in the Americas to be inferior to that of the French.

Katzenstein believes that this mindset still holds true today.

"Today, being an anti-American in France incurs no political cost," he said.

Katzenstein explained his understanding of what anti-Americanism means today.

"Anti-Americanism is not about critical opinion," Katzenstein said. "It's really about skepticism."

According to Katzenstein, the U.S. needs to gain the trust and approval of the skeptics not only through behavior, but also through character.

He pointed out that Obama might be able to alleviate anti-Americanism. On the behavioral dimension, Katzenstein believes that Obama's policy is more agreeable to many Americans than George W. Bush's. He views Obama as a pragmatist whose goals are empirically grounded and shaped on reality. In contrast, Bush created his own reality, according to Katzenstein.

In order to eliminate anti-Americanism, Katzenstein believes that Obama should signal that the U.S. will withdraw from Iraq and work towards regional cooperation and diplomacy.

As for the character dimension, Katzenstein believes that Obama should take a "practice what you preach" approach.

"The most important way of regaining character is living by the values which you profess," Katzenstein said. "Everything else is less important than living up to your own values."

Katzenstein also indicated that although the United States has such an influential voice in international affairs, there are some matters that it cannot control.

"We are a regional power," Katzenstein said. "We are a power in every region of the world, but we can't dictate outcomes."

Katzenstein believes that domestic issues should be the central concern for Obama's presidency.

"What makes or breaks the Obama presidency is not foreign policy. It's domestic policy," Katzenstein said.

Originally from Hamburg, Germany, Katzenstein is now the President of the American Political Science Association. The Economist hailed him as the most influential scholar in international and political economy. He has published many books about political science and international relations, including A World of Regions: Asia and Europe in the American Imperium.

Andreas Daum, professor of history and associate dean of Undergraduate Education, introduced Katzenstein and gave an opening speech about the newly formed Undergraduate Academies at UB. Katzenstein is the first keynote lecturer for the Global Perspectives Academy.

Immediately following Katzenstein's lecture, he met with a group of students to address their specific questions about his lecture and politics in general.

Several students who attended the lecture were engaged by Katzenstein's insight. Jessica Claire Carmelia, a junior environmental studies major, was impressed by the timeliness of the issues he brought up.

"I thought the lecture was highly enlightening and brought some clarification to questions that all of us have, especially in these troubled political and economical times," Carmelia said.




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