A couple of days ago Bono - exercising his prerogative as the biggest rock star on the planet and a "contributing columnist" to The New York Times (pretty tough to be a non-contributing columnist, though I'd give it a go if the money was right) - wrote the following in the pages of his employer:
"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."
In light of all this I wondered (in addition to wondering why The Times lets Bono wank all over the page like that) what on earth was this Nation Brands Index. Turns out its an annual measure put out under some fancy corporate title by a guy named Simon Anholt.
According to his bio Simon is: "an independent policy advisor, author and researcher. He specialises in national identity and reputation, public diplomacy and the 'brand images' of nations, cities and regions. Anholt developed the concepts of the 'nation brand' and 'place brand' in the late 1990s, and today plays a leading role in this rapidly expanding field… During the last 12 years, Simon Anholt has advised the governments of more than 40 countries on questions of national identity and reputation, public diplomacy, trade, tourism, cultural and educational relations, export and foreign investment promotion. He works closely with heads of state, heads of government, ministers, private sector and civil society leaders in a series of unique one-day policy planning workshops called conversazioni."
Anyway below is a comparison of the lists in 2009 and 2008.
In case you missed it where the United States jumped seven spots we dropped three spots from fourth to seventh.
So I wrote to Simon and asked what on earth we were doing wrong in order to fall off a cliff like that. And lo and behold he responded:
"I suspect because in the absence of any very detailed knowledge of, or familiarity with, Canada, most people see it as a simple stereotype: a kind of 'not-America' or 'America through the looking glass'. So when the US is viewed negatively, Canada is viewed positively, but when the US returns to favour - as it is now doing - then Canada loses meaning and relevance. If people feel they can trust America, they no longer need Canada. Not a great situation, to have your national reputation tied to someone else's."
I asked Si what he though we could do about that but I've yet to hear back. One thing is clear. It seems we matter somewhat less that we did before on account of Barack's sucking all the air out of the room. And soon enough he's going to to give his flock health care or a reasonable facsimillie. Thank God he's still committed to extraordinary rendition or next year we'd probably drop below Saudi Arabia.