I came across a quote recently from the ubiquitous James Lipton, discussing how candidates should act on the campaign trail. “The lesson of Reagan is that, whatever his politics and legacy, there was always only one of him,” Lipton wrote, emphasis added by the Inside the Actors Studio host.
Interestingly, new French President Francois Hollande — trying to carve out his own path on the world stage after “Sarko the American” ushered in a new era of French-American relations — was asked outside the NATO summit in Chicago whether he felt American.
“I don’t try to play the American, and I don’t need to play the Frenchman: Be myself,” Hollande responded.
Through dual summits this past weekend, Obama tried to be everything to everyone. The resolver of war. The broker of global economic security. The BFF of every leader there. The president who clearly wants voters to see that he needs to be shepherding the coalitions through the valley of darkness into a second term.
But he really just ended up being the follower.
Hollande came into the summits just days after being sworn into office, his campaign platform reflecting a sharply defined version of the Obama fairness doctrine. He left giving the world the impression that he won’t be shy about letting his fellow leaders know where he stands. He could have worn a “Socialist and proud” T-shirt if his accountant style would accommodate such tacky American wear.
And whether it was an effort to make a buddy out of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Socialist replacement or his relief that he had finally met kindred policy beliefs, Obama backed Hollande’s plans to stimulate growth early on at the G-8 summit preceding the NATO meeting. Hollande remained firm on his pledge to pull French troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, despite Obama pleas to stay in the game until the end of 2014.
The White House photos from the Camp David get-together show Obama kicking back with his British mate David Cameron, laughing on a park bench with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, turning on the football (soccer) game for José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and the other leaders, and Hollande just pretty much looking bored in each shot.
When Obama addressed the NATO summit on Monday, Hollande wasn’t even there, slipping into his seat — the only empty chair — after Obama finished speaking. His aides told a French journalist that he was busy in bilateral meetings with Poland’s president and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Obama had rolled out the red carpet a little further for Hollande than the rest, welcoming him for a one-on-one meeting at the White House before heading up to Camp David and over to Chicago. Mike Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economics, said he thought the Hollande-Obama conversations were “very good, open, frank and honest conversations.”
After their bilateral meeting, Obama made some jokes about American fast-food and then stressed the two leaders would discuss with the G-8 how to “manage a responsible approach to fiscal consolidation that is coupled with a strong growth agenda.”
Obama said the Socialist has gotten off to a “very strong start,” and Hollande said he intended for his first world leader visit outside of Europe to be at the White House.
“I discussed the main topics with President Obama, including the economy and the fact that growth must be a priority, at the same time as we put in place some fiscal compacts to improve our finances,” Hollande said. The two definitely have in common their belief in “investment spending” as the ticket to growth.