Oh, But A Change Of Heart Comes Slow

October 20, 2009

(Note: That’s a lyric from the U2 song, “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.”)

I really wasn’t going to comment on the recent New York Times Op-Ed by Bono about “Rebranding America,” but I feel that I have to after reading this ridiculous Opinion column from Fix Noise about it today…

It means something to have been born breathing American air and waking day after day in this our country. Americans might not always be able to put into words the core features of their “brand” but they know them deeply and, more important, they know what those features are not.

This is the problem with someone like Bono telling us how to rebrand. He’s like that outside consultant who might have one or two insights into how to fix a part of a company. While he might have a couple of good ideas he doesn’t understand the entire culture, and more importantly he also doesn’t get why it has succeeded, even as it has occasionally stumbled, to fundamentally satisfy the needs of its Target Market (i.e., it’s own citizens) and even the needs of the world.

The more glaring problem with Bono’s approach is that his rebranding idea is a rebranding of America for the left. This is simply not how rebranding works. You can’t take a portion of what you want to rebrand –be it a company or a country—and think that you will succeed by ignoring the core characteristics of the rest of it.

Author John Tantillo, described as a “marketing expert,” also tells us that America believes in a “strong defense,” “individual opportunity” (as if most other countries somehow don’t, I wonder to myself), and, of course, has “never been about leading a life without risk and creating a big government that makes sure everything is taken care of” (which I’m sure is news to anyone covered by Medicare, Social Security, or health benefits through the VA).

All of Tantillo’s comments lead me to wonder whether he even so much as read a single word of what Bono wrote, so please allow me to provide some excerpts (including the following quote from President Obama, the basis for Bono’s whole “rebranding” argument)…

“We will support the Millennium Development Goals, and approach next year’s summit with a global plan to make them a reality. And we will set our sights on the eradication of extreme poverty in our time.”

They’re not my words, they’re your president’s. If they’re not familiar, it’s because they didn’t make many headlines. But for me, these 36 words are why I believe Mr. Obama could well be a force for peace and prosperity — if the words signal action.

The millennium goals, for those of you who don’t know, are a persistent nag of a noble, global compact. They’re a set of commitments we all made nine years ago whose goal is to halve extreme poverty by 2015. Barack Obama wasn’t there in 2000, but he’s there now. Indeed he’s gone further — all the way, in fact. Halve it, he says, then end it.

These new steps — and those 36 words — remind the world that America is not just a country but an idea, a great idea about opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man.

All right … I don’t speak for the rest of the world. Sometimes I think I do — but as my bandmates will quickly (and loudly) point out, I don’t even speak for one small group of four musicians. But I will venture to say that in the farthest corners of the globe, the president’s words are more than a pop song people want to hear on the radio. They are lifelines.

In dangerous, clangorous times, the idea of America rings like a bell (see King, M. L., Jr., and Dylan, Bob). It hits a high note and sustains it without wearing on your nerves. (If only we all could.) This was the melody line of the Marshall Plan and it’s resonating again. Why? Because the world sees that America might just hold the keys to solving the three greatest threats we face on this planet: extreme poverty, extreme ideology and extreme climate change. The world senses that America, with renewed global support, might be better placed to defeat this axis of extremism with a new model of foreign policy.

America shouldn’t turn up its national nose at popularity contests. In the same week that Mr. Obama won the Nobel, the United States was ranked as the most admired country in the world, leapfrogging from seventh to the top of the Nation Brands Index survey — the biggest jump any country has ever made. Like the Nobel, this can be written off as meaningless … a measure of Mr. Obama’s celebrity (and we know what people think of celebrities).

But an America that’s tired of being the world’s policeman, and is too pinched to be the world’s philanthropist, could still be the world’s partner. And you can’t do that without being, well, loved. Here come the letters to the editor, but let me just say it: Americans are like singers — we just a little bit, kind of like to be loved. The British want to be admired; the Russians, feared; the French, envied. (The Irish, we just want to be listened to.) But the idea of America, from the very start, was supposed to be contagious enough to sweep up and enthrall the world.

And it is. The world wants to believe in America again because the world needs to believe in America again. We need your ideas — your idea — at a time when the rest of the world is running out of them.

I have to admit, fairly or unfairly, that I get a bit tired of Bono’s brand of pontification, and there are more reputable individuals on the planet he could choose to “hobnob” with besides Bill Gates. However, I know he speaks from an international perspective that is sorely lacking in our discourse, and often ridiculed when we do hear it, as we’ve seen above.

And given that, I would only say to Tantillo that “you’ve been running away from what you don’t understand.”

(Another U2 lyric, from “Mysterious Ways” – so clever, I know…smile.)

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