Kathleen Parker

WASHINGTON -- Sound the alarms, man the barracks, alert the producers! Barack Obama, agent of change, isn't a-changin'.

As the president-elect recycles Clintonistas for Cabinet appointments -- even considering Hillary for secretary of state and keeping Bush's defense secretary for at least another year -- conventional wise guys are wondering: Where's the change?

Perhaps we're looking for change in all the wrong places. In other ways, less apparent but of long-term importance, Obama may be the change he promised.

Setting aside the obvious -- complete sentences, free of words yet to be discovered -- he is uniquely positioned to change the world on multiple levels.

As Jeff Gedmin, president of Radio Free Europe, recently put it: Obama is a weapon of mass attraction. That attractiveness isn't just physical, but is a matter of style.

Before the harrumphers tune up, no one's arguing for style over substance, but style does matter. Style isn't just cosmetic, but has to do with the way one enters and takes a room's temperature.

Style is the instinct to swagger -- or not.

Speaking recently at the Ethics and Public Policy Center here about public diplomacy, Gedmin pointed out that George Bush's "bring 'em on" cowboy style worked for about half the American people and about 5 percent of the globe. By comparison, he said, Obama's style resonates with about 90 percent of the world.

Both Gedmin and fellow speaker Kenneth Pollack -- a Persian Gulf expert and author of "A Path Out of the Desert" -- agreed that the messenger, as well as the message, matters. How successfully the U.S. communicates its interests to the rest of the world turns in part on who is delivering the information and how the "sale" is pitched.

"Sale" gets quotation marks because, says Pollack, we need to stop thinking in terms of selling and advertising. Rather, the best marketing tool for "selling" liberal democratic values (much like religious conviction) is to by living those values rather than by preaching or trying to impose them.

Sometimes our values and interests intersect; sometimes they don't. To the extent Obama understands that concept -- and he seems to -- then he is change.

On the domestic front, what does he offer?

Again, setting aside specific policies, Obama's example could have society-altering effects, especially in the African-American community. By his example, he telegraphs the following messages: Being smart is good; education is good; being a good father is essential. Being an egghead is cool.

Those are no mere inklings.


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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