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Jewish World Review July 2, 1999 /18 Tamuz 5759

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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The perfect spokesman for the American way --
THE UNITED STATES is supposed to have the most brilliant advertising men and women, the most clever public relations people, in the world. When it comes to selling the sizzle on the steak, no one is better than American PR experts.

If that's true, then why have the image-makers missed the boat on the biggest PR job of all?

Not public relations for an automobile or a soft drink. Anyone can do that.

No, the American product most in need of good is ...America itself.

For generations -- ever since World War II, really -- the U.S. has suffered a mostly bad public image worldwide. We who live here know that we're basically OK -- we have a lot of problems, but all in all, we're a pretty good place to live.

It's just that, on a given day, large portions of the rest of the world seem to disagree with that.

So -- on this 4th of July weekend -- it is only appropriate, in the interest of the national good, to offer a piece of free public-relations advice to the government:

The perfect spokesman for the United States is living among us. Hire him, put him on the road to tell people around the globe what he thinks of us, and our popularity ratings will skyrocket virtually overnight.

Send this guy out to talk about us -- and no one will ever doubt his sincerity.

Who is this new spokesman? Who should get the job?

Sergei Khrushchev.

Nikita's son.

As you may have heard, Sergei, who is 63 years old, recently took the test that enables people to become naturalized U.S. citizens -- and passed easily. He and his wife took the tests at the Providence, R.I., office of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. He got 19 of the 20 questions right, she got all 20. They are scheduled to take their citizenship oaths on July 12 -- after which they will officially be Americans.

Sergei's dad, Nikita, of course, was the most feared figure of the Cold War --- the Soviet leader who warned the U.S., "We will bury you." Was there a person who was more loathed by Americans? What do you think all those air-raid drills in the elementary schools of the 1950s were for? It was to teach American children how to duck and hide from Khrushchev's bombs, should they ever come.

And now here is his son --- soon to be an American citizen, by choice.

"The world has changed," Sergei Khrushchev told reporters after passing his citizenship test. "I think our heart is here."

The United States -- home of Khrushchev's heart. He has lived in Rhode Island since 1991, where he is a faculty member at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. He and his wife appear to love it here. "We have very good neighbors, and they help us," she said. "They taught me American life."

So Khrushchev's kid, far from helping to bury us, is about a week away from becoming one of us -- enthusiastically.

What could be more surprising than this turn of events -- Khrushchev-the-American? Maybe going down to the VFW hall and finding a fellow named Hank Hitler having a beer next to you, but that's about it.

Which brings us to the opportunity being missed by America's leading PR and advertising people.

Sign him up -- offer him an endorsement deal he can't refuse. Once he's got his citizenship papers, throw as much money at him as it takes to get him away from the Brown faculty.

Send him on tour, full-time. Assignment: promoting America.

Is there a television-show booker anywhere in the world who could turn this guy down? "And tomorrow night, in our first segment, Khrushchev will talk about what a great place America is." Man-bites-dog to the extreme: Khrushchev, the ultimate patriotic American.

He could do for the country what its official spokespeople -- President Clinton, Secretary of State Albright -- have never quite been able to accomplish: elicit instant friendship, smiles, affection and a human sense of welcoming from people all over the planet, even those most wary of the United States. The American political leaders, the world doesn't always trust.

But Khrushchev?

When he says America is wonderful, who's going to doubt him?

Would Americans with long memories forgive him for the things his father said and did?

Come on. Americans are willing to forgive anything -- in the United States of Latrell Sprewell, Khrushchev's acceptance is a tap-in putt. All he has to do is be charming, funny and self-effacing (the English-language sentence he wrote on his citizenship test was "The store is open"), and he's got a free pass as the new top salesman for the American way.

It's lucky the Constitution prohibits him from doing certain things. Otherwise, he just might end up as president.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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