As an American, I couldn’t help but see President Obama’s Eurotrip as the work of an (accomplished) travelling salesman.
I was surprised they didn’t make him parade down Oxford Street. Stop by Harrods. Put on a costume and panhandle under the London Eye. Maybe a pub-crawl? Pimm’s O’bama, anyone?
Make no mistake about it: he was here to sell. But while much of the fluff has hardly registered a blip on the radar in America, it has, as one might expect, been covered with ferocity in England. From beer, to dresses, to limos—the British media has been a willing advertiser.
Most importantly to Obama, it’s sold his campaign. By the time Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron sat down to deal with the serious work, the “essential” work had already been done. For a little more than a month, Obama has been on the 2012 campaign trail, and the early stint of this Eurotrip is quickly paying huge dividends.
For that matter, it’s paying dividends for anyone involved. It began in Ireland, where Obama guzzled down a pint of Guinness and declared he had rediscovered his Irish roots, channelling his great, great, great grandfather—fully aware, no doubt, that one in ten Americans are of Irish descent. The economic impact for Guinness, meanwhile, has been estimated to be worth more than £122m.
“It’s the next morning. Swaddled in the afterglow, the Irish are trying to figure out: Was it true love or merely a one-day stand?” wrote New York Times’ columnist Maureen Dowd. Great Britain got two days, but the agenda was similarly frivolous.
Sure, there were issues of true concern, which were conveniently left for the tail end of the trip: how to deal with the Libyan stalemate; will America dedicate more troops to the fight against Muammar Gaddafi; the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan; and the continuing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. But there is little hope that Obama will commit anything more to Libya—to the chagrin of Britain and France, and discussions over troop drawdowns in Afghanistan remain inconclusive.
No, pomp and pageantry had the leading role, and the British media has played right into Obama’s hands. In America, the headlines remain on how the Republicans are failing to find a legitimate challenger, how the budget deficit is crippling the country and on how much pressure to put on Gaddafi.
Here is Britain, by contrast, there’s been little talk of failures. The country was just happy he had shown up. He could, after all, do no wrong following up President Bush. Following on the coattails of the Queen in Ireland before making a UK splash, the stage is now set for him save the world at the G8 summit.
This trip has been a charm offensive on all fronts, and it has worked. Every major British newspaper during the past couple of days has had a top story on the fashion choices of Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron. American papers, like the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times, reluctantly followed suit with fashion stories relegated to the fashion sections. Not so in Britain, where sartorial diplomacy went front and centre. For the Daily Mirror, it was “Fashion Verdict.” For The Times, it was “The First Lady’s Seven Unbreakable Style Rules.” The Guardian: “Michelle, meet SamCam,” above a photo of the two conversing on a couch.
These are things that sell newspapers, but nothing more. We know nothing more about his policies or plans than we did before. We have no solutions. We know the president can behave in Britain.
Indeed, the Eurotrip is proving to be a safe venue for Obama, away from the economic woes that plague him at home. At home, his approval rating has dropped to 48 per cent after enjoying a slight improvement post-Osama. Today, Obama continues to sell his message in France, and then in Poland. The real question is, are Americans buying it?