The media is gaga over Barack Obama’s international trip. They fawn, they cheer, and they marvel. But did they miss the big story? It wouldn’t be the first time in this (or a prior) election in which the MSM collectively missed the boat. And this time, it happened largely at the hands of some reporters who gave Obama just enough room to do himself some damage.
As Michael Dukakis’ former campaign manager Susan Estrich observed, “[B]eing the favorite of the press doesn’t necessarily win you votes.” And sometimes they lull you into a state of bliss, unaware that the sheer excess of their infatuation is itself problematic.
There are several legacies of the Obama trip that will linger long after the pictures fade from memory. Unfortunately for him (and his media cheerleaders), none is positive.
First, he put himself, with a bit of help from interviewers Charlie Gibson, Terry Moran, and Katie Couric, in an awful ideological bind. The surge has worked despite Obama’s predictions. Indeed, his trip helped publicize just how startling has been the transition in Iraq from chaos to fledgling democracy. Rather than join the victory celebration he continued to declare his opposition to the surge and bemoan that the money wasn’t used on domestic spending (or alternatively in Afghanistan, where the same enemy lurks and Obama suggests we employ the very same surge concept). Each of the interviewers, to one degree or another, expressed incredulity and frustration. Why wouldn’t he concede the surge had worked and he was wrong? It is, after all, not everyday that a presidential candidate says he still believes we shouldn’t have pursued a path to victory. It would have been as if Thomas Dewey in the 1944 presidential race declared that we never should have attempted D-day.
This will be an ongoing and serious dilemma for Obama. It raises issues of judgment and stubbornness — the very issues on which John McCain has tried to get traction. How will he explain that he’s sorry we made the effort to win in Iraq –or believed we could have miraculously arrived at the same outcome with no military effort? It will not be easy and it raises anew the question as to whether a glib, inexperienced senator appreciates the implications of military defeat — or potential victory. McCain will no doubt make this a central focus of his argument that Obama is unfit to lead.
The second impact of the trip stems from Obama’s mistake in assuming international acclaim and media adoration would impress the folks back home. Watching tens of thousands of Germans listen to his worldly appeal that “this is our [who is “our” exactly?] time,” voters back home may not be impressed. And poll numbers suggest they aren’t. The blatant appeal to international world opinion (why exactly was he giving a campaign speech to tens of thousands of non-voting Europeans?) may not be the recipe for success.
McCain certainly spotted the opening. His attempt to focus on energy policy and counterprogram Obama’s overseas speech with appearances in key states like Ohio and Pennsylvania showed the McCain team suspects voters may be turned off by Obama’s wooing of international public opinion. A McCain campaign statement summed up the problem for Obama: “While Barack Obama took a premature victory lap today in the heart of Berlin, proclaiming himself a ‘citizen of the world,’ John McCain continued to make his case to the American citizens who will decide this election. Barack Obama offered eloquent praise for this country, but the contrast is clear. John McCain has dedicated his life to serving, improving and protecting America. Barack Obama spent an afternoon talking about it.”
And finally, Obama’s mega-gaffe in snubbing the wounded troops in Germany (with the excuse he wouldn’t want to use campaign funds for such a visit) left even the MSM scratching their heads. There could be no perfect example of the argument McCain has been making: this is a callow man whose ego blinds him to the sacrifice of military service. Coming on the heels of news that Obama is already planning his White House transition, it seemed to put new emphasis on the question the McCain camp has been implicitly asking, “Who does he think he is?”
So Obama has left a trail of political presents for McCain to scoop up. It should not be surprising that the mainstream press fails to recognize that the seeds of Obama’s undoing may have been sown under their very noses. They didn’t initially recognize the impact of Reverend Wright either. And the left-leaning punditocracy threw a collective fit when ABC moderators asked hard questions of Obama, which later proved to be key consideration for many primary voters in Rust Belt states.
The elite liberal pundits and reporters are, after all, exceedingly poor gauges of public opinion on everything from the appeal of Ronald Reagan to abortion politics. So it would not be unusual to find that they missed the real story (or chose to shield their eyes from it). The desperation to help elect their chosen son has blinded them to the implications of his and their own behavior. And the beneficiary of that is John McCain.
Can McCain capitalize on it? Polls show he is narrowing the gap with Obama as McCain concentrates on national security and energy policy (where Obama has embraced a position utterly at odds with three-quarters of the voters). With laser-like focus, he now must make the argument that the Obama summer abroad proves his (and Hillary Clinton’s) point: Obama does not pass the commander-in-chief test. And if he is successful, the political pundit class will look back on Obama’s week abroad and marvel how they got it so wrong. But they usually do.