Last week Barack Obama piled up more frequent flyer miles than in most campaign months. But did he win any votes by photo-opping and crooning his way across the Mideast and Europe in a week-long game of Let's Play President?
Well, some. Maybe. The initial polls taken concurrent with and after Obama's trip showed he gained a little during the week, finishing at 49-40 over McCain, according to Gallup. This constituted Obama's largest lead over McCain, demonstrating that a well-planned hustle will almost always net you something. But the old fighter jock actually gained a small amount of ground in some battleground states during Obama's absence. And Monday's USA Today/Gallup numbers showed McCain ahead 49-45 among likely voters as opposed to just the registered kind. Sometimes it's hard to tell who's on first.
Of course the purpose of the trip was to try to repair the perception, based on reality, that Obama is very weak in the areas of security and foreign relations. American media types, ever eager to advance the Obama cause, mostly rose to the bait. One Sunday morning yak-yak host kicked off the show asking, "Can we take off the 'inexperienced' label [from Obama]?" Another talking head opined that the week (a week!) "put Obama on the stage with world leaders."
Well, he was indeed on the stage with leaders, many of whom, playing the odds, decided to go along with the gag. But then the sound techs who made sure the microphones were live were on the stage too, and we probably shouldn't make one of these president either.
Obama's speeches during his recent excellent adventure were the same re-cycled intellectual empty calories we've heard from Obama stateside since his debut at the 2004 Democratic convention made him a rock star. His vacuous sonorities in Berlin were the sorts of things that make transnational hearts (the kind with only left chambers) go pitty-pat. But these folks were already on the Obama team.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Obama's Berlin speech "a positive signal." But a signal for what she didn't say. (Hit and run, perhaps -- which is what Obama's overseas experience amounts to.) And the speech had to be a species of non-sequitur, as he's not running for office in Germany, though perhaps he should be. If the EU had a post of commander in chief it might be just the thing for Obama. It would put Obama at the head of a military of about his own dimensions. Since WWII, Europe has spent about as much on its own defense as Imelda Marcos spent on shoes.
TO BE FAIR, Obama did say in his Berlin speech that Europe and Germany need to be more supportive of the war on terrorism and be more cognizant of how Europe's and America's interests coincide in this area. But he didn't press these points. And there was little else in his remarks to comfort red meat Americans who suspect Obama belongs in a New Age pulpit more than he belongs in the Oval Office. Mostly it was thumping banalities like, "Now is the time to reclaim our children's future."
The fact that 200,000 people turned out in Berlin to hear Obama sing a couple of choruses of "We Are the World" only demonstrates that Europeans, who have long since lost the taste both for liberty and for hard work, have a lot of time on their hands and are not very discriminating in the entertainment they choose. For a long time it has been no secret that Obama and his brand of socialist, pacifist politics have been very popular in Old Europe. Perhaps it's time we traded Obama to the EU for two croissants and a used Volvo. (It would be one of those trades that benefit both teams. Europe would get a guy they adore, and we would get something of value.)
And by the way, doesn't Obama have things out of sequence? JFK and RR both made well-regarded speeches in Berlin (both containing more substance and more testosterone that Obama's). But they waited until after they were President to go there. Obama, getting ahead of himself and everyone else, has put the victory lap before the victory.
Ich bin ein pretender.
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