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Michael Hayman

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The Greatest

Posted: 21/01/2013 13:32

Sultry and steamy, a sweat soaked night to remember. 1974 and Zaire hosts a boxing bout, the Rumble In The Jungle, that many will soon declare as the greatest ever fought.

Exhausting his opponent with the rope-a-dope, Mohammed Ali is suddenly free, letting loose a flurry of lethal jabs flooring the unstoppable George Foreman.

Every pundit has been proved wrong. Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, has achieved what seemed impossible, he has regained the heavyweight championship of the world.

America needs a comeback every bit as dramatic. For, as Obama steps into the ring of the presidency for his second term, many have written him off and with that the prospect of the United States as a champion for our times.

Those who didn't like Ali dismissed him as all mouth. Many who write off Obama make a similar point. All he can do is talk, they will say, great at campaigning but not at leading.

They're wrong. Never have Barack Obama's gifts as a communicator been as needed by America as they are right now.

The threat of the fiscal cliff means that America needs to trade its way out of trouble. The president needs to make his second term the greatest marketing drive in US history. As vital to today as FDR's New Deal was in the 1930's.

Right now the United States needs not a commander-in-chief but a communicator-in-chief to sell its products and services to the world. This is the only route back from recession to recovery.

It's a point that flows through to business. It's not about making more stuff; it's about making it better and selling it harder. This needs to be the decade of American exceptionalism and that needs flair from the nation's commercial leaders.

Remember Victor Kiam, the Remington chief who declared, "I was so impressed I bought the company"? Where is his ilk today, those with the style and confidence not only to build the company brand but also the national brand?

Where are America's super salesmen of today? Who are they?

We live in an era when confidence in capitalism has collapsed to a dangerous low, and where the champions of capitalism are often geeks and boffins with little appetite for speaking up for the system that has brought them wealth.

Great for invention, but not the campaigning zeal needed in a communication age. Our icons today are the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Look, these guys are brilliant inventors and business people but it's their power as communicators that America most needs now. That's lacking.

Jaded pundits who say America's day is done, self-proclaimed experts who talk of the inevitability of decline, get good airtime right now. It helps fuel some of the US psyche which, in many parts, is an angry one akin to a nice guy with a hangover.

Frankly, I'd rather listen to Paris Hilton, who said, "Dress cute wherever you go, life's too short to blend in."

What America needs right now is a War on Timidity to be taken as seriously as it does the War on Terror. As the Editor of Esquire, David Granger, said in this month's US edition, it's time to "lift the people up" and that means unleashing "a hunger for confidence, inspiration and a deep interest in what our future holds."

I grew up in an era where the American Dream spoke to the world, where American cultural and commercial dominance fuelled aspiration everywhere. That's not gone. The US is not only still the superpower of our age, it is the super brand of our time.

America remains resolutely the most optimistic nation on earth. It stands for 'can do' in a way that no other nation on the planet can match. Getting its mojo together is not just a national challenge, it stands at the heart of liberal democracy as we know it.

"I'm so mean I make medicine sick." Ali's words before the Foreman bout. Obama should take note. America urgently needs a president with the self-confidence, focus and charisma to believe that both he and his country still have what it takes to be the greatest.

 

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