I can’t get over the media circus surrounding Senator Barack Obama’s current trip to the Middle East. Never mind that Senator John McCain’s recent trip overseas hardly made the nightly news (we will just chalk that up to another instance of media bias), but the fact that the world went crazy as soon as Obama stepped on the plane means something deeper is being established here. Apparently, Obama’s handlers and the national media have deluded themselves into believing the hip presidential candidate can transform himself into some sort of super-diplomat simply by spending a few hours in some war-torn countries. Need to burnish some foreign policy credentials for your presidential campaign? No problem, just hit the road to the remotest regions of the world and voilà – instant international policy expert.
I’m not saying that McCain is completely innocent of such tactics, heck no politician is. Many in Washington were scratching their heads while he was traipsing through the jungles of Colombia last month – burning precious time reserved for the campaign trail. But then came the freeing of hostages held by the FARC Colombian rebels, and McCain looked, well, presidential. And really, that’s the whole point of these “fact-finding” missions – looking good for the cameras.
Perhaps these work vacations by politicians are more sophisticated than they first appear. Maybe Americans appreciate the fact that their presidential candidates are traveling beyond the confines of America and seeing the world firsthand. Perhaps, but do not be deceived. These are trips staged to the finest detail, with little left to chance and happenstance. Obama and McCain know this, and they have treated it as such – an extension of their political campaigns. Why do you think the network anchors are along for the ride? It is surely not because of the news quotient that the “surge” is working. What they gain can be debated, but what they “earn” the right to say during and after these trips seems quite baseless.
For example, as the Senator from Illinois walked the Middle East battlefields under heavy protection, it became obvious that he was using the experience to try and ride both sides of the troop withdrawal issue. For as long a s I can remember, he and the Democrats have chided, goaded and even threatened the government of Iraq into a timetable in order to get them to “take more responsibility” for their security situation. For months, these individuals were practically insulting Prime Minister Maliki and his ability to lead, implying they knew what the prime minister needed to turn the ship of state around. And now, when Maliki hints a timetable that is in his country’s best interests, Obama is all too eager to sit down and praise the Iraqi leader’s prescience and wisdom on the matter. However, when someone back home presses Obama on leaving the Iraq unprotected and isolated from American troops, he balks just a bit and focuses his answer on the “phased withdrawal” baloney and the importance of moving troops to Afghanistan.
Maybe the reason American anchors love the Obama Overseas story is because citizens around the world are treating this man like a God. His idol status in just about every country not named Israel is showing just how much this man is attracting the people. And we all know that when that happens, the news trucks follow.
Germans, for example, are already calling him “President Obama” while the king of Jordan is driving him around in his Mercedes. Even the senator’s own staff is swallowing the Kool-Aid as fast as they can stir it by invoking “White House protocol” on what are clearly campaign stops. A 24-nation poll conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that Obama is hot in Europe. The recent Pew Global Attitudes survey found that, among Europeans paying attention to the presidential contest, large majorities voice confidence in Obama, while relatively few have a positive opinion of McCain.
I realize it’s difficult to not savor the limelight on the other side of the Atlantic, particularly when the current Oval Office occupant is so despised by the Middle East and Europe. At some point, however, Obama needs to honor the office he seeks to hold by respecting the man who currently serves as America’s chief diplomat, and the policies this administration has established. David Gergen – adviser to four presidents, mind you – said it best when he stated, “I cannot remember a campaign in which a rival seeking the presidency has been in a position negotiating a war that’s under way with another party outside the country.” That’s dangerous, on so many levels.
Yet Obama continues to enjoy this sense of empowerment; and he feeds off the media more than any candidate I’ve seen in the past decade. The American people see this for what it is. A Rasmussen poll out today found that 49% of Americans think the media is totally biased toward Obama. Just 14% feel that way toward McCain and the coverage he’s garnering.
It’s time to get serious in this campaign season and re-calibrate all of our attentions – the attention of the media, the public and the candidates themselves.