It makes some sense for a man who would be commander-in-chief of the American military to visit America’s war zones, and indeed, before last week’s trip, the McCain campaign had been taunting Barack Obama for months about the fact that he hadn’t visited Iraq in a long time. It makes less sense, in the middle of a campaign, for a non-incumbent presidential candidate to do a tour of Europe, as Obama did last week after making stops in Afghanistan and the Middle East.
John McCain’s trip to South America earlier this month was almost as odd, but it wasn’t staged with nearly the fanfare of Obama’s trip. Nor do McCain’s surrogates have to be reminded that there’s still an election on, as a senior Obama foreign policy adviser had to be after asserting that “When the president of the United States goes and gives a speech [overseas], it is not a political speech or a political rally.”
“But he is not president of the United States,” a reporter noted.
Maybe not, but he sure acts like he is. Obama has already ordered his staff to put together his transition team to prepare for his move into the White House. In advance of his trip to Germany, he began to plan for a speech at the Brandenburg Gate, the hallowed ground where John F. Kennedy visited on the day of his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech and where Ronald Reagan gave his “tear down this wall” speech. The speech was moved after Chancellor Angela Merkel gently nudged the Obama campaign to consider a venue more appropriate for a non-president.
It’s possible that Obama forgets that he still needs to be elected because a competitive general election is totally unfamiliar to him. In Chicago, where the Republican Party barely exists, the winner of the Democratic primary automatically wins the general election. During the 2004 race for U.S. Senate, the Illinois GOP was in full meltdown and failed to field a serious candidate, settling instead on the buffoonish perennial election-loser Alan Keyes; Obama easily crushed him.
Indeed, even in primaries Obama has had an amazingly easy time of it. In his first election to the state senate, he played Chicago hardball and got all his opponents kicked off the ballot by challenging their petition signatures. He faced no serious opposition in his reelection campaigns. In the 2004 Senate primary, his most formidable opponent, Blair Hull, lost his considerable lead in the polls when his ex-wife’s allegations of domestic abuse became public, clearing the path for Obama. Until he ran for president, Obama’s toughest race was the one he lost, for Bobby Rush’s seat in the U.S. House.
The marathon Democratic primary race against Hillary Clinton was, by far, the hardest-earned victory in Obama’s political career. With that sweet triumph behind him, and a respectable (though not overwhelming) lead in most polls, it’s not surprising that Obama and his allies are getting a little cocky. The media and foreign leaders (Merkel notwithstanding) are only egging him on. The networks, who cover McCain’s travels as almost a footnote, sent their anchors to follow Obama around the world. During Obama’s stop in Jordan, King Abdullah drove him to the airport, demoting himself from monarch to cab driver in the face of The Glorious Barack.
All of this breeds hubris, which, as the Greek dramatists taught us, tends to lead to tragedy. There’s precious little, at the moment, to indicate that Obama’s hubris will cost him the election. The real danger is that the fall before which Obama’s pride goeth will come only after he’s elected, and that we’ll all have to face the consequences.