Visiting political scientist explains "Obamamania"

­­Yesterday, Geneseo hosted "Obamamania and Anti-Americanism in World Politics," a lecture delivered by Peter Katzenstein, Walter Carpenter professor of international studies at Cornell University and president of the American Political Science Association.

The event was originally scheduled to be held in Newton 201, but student demand was so great that it was moved to the larger Newton 214 in order to accommodate the influx of interested students.

Katzenstein opened by reading off selected positive reactions from around the world to Obama's victory in November, such as Kenya's declaration of a national holiday. He compared these positive views of America to an excerpt from David Brooks' "On Paradise Drive" which discussed the mystical, fantastical and lofty conceptions held by both Americans and Europeans.

Katzenstein then introduced opposing views of America or, "what the French would call 'the land where the birds don't sing.'"

Katzenstein questioned whether Barack Obama's election transformed America. "I don't believe in transformation in an election," he said. "I believe in our ability to build up a fantasy."

To him, America's political tradition was simply growing from the neo-conservatism of the Bush years to what he called neo-liberalism, a values-based liberalism. Although he calls Obama "a fundamentally pragmatic politician," Katzenstein said he views him as a key turn in American political tradition rather than a full transformation of our country.

Katzenstein then abruptly shifted the discussion to anti-Americanism. Being a "difficult concept to wrap your head around," he started by giving examples of anti-Europeanism, much to the delight of a laughing group of students. He quickly turned from the caricature of "The French - they're all gay" to the reality that anti-Europeanism is based in prejudice, just as anti-Americanism is.

"You can't change this prejudice with information," he said. "No matter what information you tell a Nazi about the Jews, the Nazi knows everything already and has made up his mind."

Katzenstein then briefly defined six different types of anti-Americanism: liberal, social or social welfare, state sovereign nationalist, radical, elitist, and legacy. "Anti-Americanism is not singular, but plural," he said.

This, combined with his assessment that Obama's election was not a transformation of America, culminated to his final conclusion: "This is who we are, plain and simple. We can't get rid of all of the anti-Americanisms in one election."