Friday, July 25, 2008

The Aura of Inevitability

I like Rod Dreher's take on the Obama/Berlin moment from this morning, and I especially enjoyed the link to this splendid bit of writing. Political satire at its finest; I've read it a couple of times to savor the brilliance.

If the mainstream media decides that there's too much derision surrounding Obama over this Grand Tour of his, they may turn on him yet; while many of them are fiercely partisan, their first and deepest loyalties lie not with any particular candidate or party, but with their own self-interests. This is why Dukakis was defeated, among others--the media will go to bat for a credible Democrat, but not an incredible one--and it's also why they've been so gosh-darned excited about Obama, who has thus far avoided the stamp of ridiculousness that has destroyed the dreams of dozens of Democrats.

So this trip, this jaunt about Europe and the Middle East, has been fraught with peril from the start. Away from the lapdog press in America, amid bickering over speech scenery and backdrops, unable to hide the two deepest realities that define him so far (that he's still just a candidate, and that he has nothing particularly important to say), Obama has been risking his campaign on a singularly chancy roll of the dice. Why, some have begun to wonder, would he choose to campaign outside the United States at all? Did he run out of aptronymic U.S. towns to visit? Was he tired of having his campaign stump speeches relegated to--well, not section B, the media's not that unbiased--but at least the relative obscurity of the inner front page, after all the news about mortgage failures and gas prices and grumbling discontent? Why not campaign in America, among people who can actually vote for him?

Unless you're seriously going to argue that he's after the expatriate vote--you remember, all those angry B-list celebs who vowed to shake the dust of Hollywood from their feet if Bush were re-elected, unless somebody hired them to do a feature film in which case All would be Forgiven--you have to ponder this a bit. Considering how much could go wrong, and how little the payoff would be even if all went right, why would Obama go overseas for an extended campaign session?

I think the answer may be that he's trying to create the aura of inevitability, that mystical mantle that envelopes the successful and makes people begin to speak of him as if the office he covets were already his.

Consider the "mock presidential seal" his campaign affixed to his podium not all that long ago. Surely they realized that such an audacious move would backfire, right? Perhaps they did--but perhaps they thought it was a risk worth taking, if even just a few people subliminally internalized the message: "President Obama."

And this tour seems part of the same strategy. Americans are quite used to their president flying overseas to meet with foreign dignitaries, give speeches, gather crowds. By doing this now, while still the candidate, I think Obama wants people to start thinking of him right now as their only possible future president, the one to whom the people of the world are flocking with interest and admiration.

His meeting with General Petraeus, which I blogged about earlier, was cut from the same cloth--Obama didn't meet with him as a candidate for President, but in a way that clearly left the message, "I will be your next boss." It was arrogant beyond belief, but I think Obama knew the American media would give him a pass on that, and the message would be sent not only to Petraeus but to millions of potential voters, as well.

His speech in Berlin was quite possibly the first event in this scripted and results-driven tour that didn't go quite as planned. Not only did he not get the location he had hoped for, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind that the speech was mediocre at best, words without an obvious purpose, mere fluff that said little and meant less. From Obama's perspective, though, as long as Joe and Jane Average Voter saw crowds of foreigners grouped eagerly around some historically significant cosmopolitan location, the speech may have been a success; if the point of this trip is to make it seem inevitable that our next president will be President Obama, it matters little what the people who heard the speech actually thought of it.

But it does matter what the media thinks of it; I think Obama's making the same miscalculation that led him to try the "Unity, N.H." trick more than once. The press is not nearly as much in his pocket as he thinks they are--they're always something of an unknown quantity, capable of conducting sympathetic puffery interviews one minute and morphing into journalistic Rottweilers the next. I think they know perfectly well what he's up to on this trip, that he wants, with their help, to create the illusion that it is quite simply inevitable for him to be elected president. And many of them may be quite willing to go along with that, too--but not if Joe and Jane Average Voter catch on, and start to laugh at the whole idea.

Because the media is willing to do a lot of things for someone like Barack Obama--but share the hysterical laugher, and the aura of ridicule, is not one of them. Let that mantle cross his shoulders for a moment, and the press Obama's been able to count on for the most part until now will display an entirely different face.

1 comment:

~~~mary said...

Red -
Hate to say it but I am married to Joe Average Voter and he is taking Obama - hook, line and sinker. Husband can't define why he wants Obama, "but he likes him. Obama will be a good president." You would be hard pressed to find someone to fill the shoes labelled "Average American" as well as my husband and he is all for this candidate who has shown tons of charisma, but little else. Its as if Obama smiles and issues such as infanticide disappear.
I find it all quite chilling. Peace. ~~~mary