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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Barack Obama has stood before America and the world, and now awaits our verdict.

Whether in his conversations with our soldiers, world leaders, or the throng that greeted him in Berlin, the presumptive Democratic nominee spent 10 days attempting to convince those American voters who walk among us doubting his ability to represent us on the world stage. Some believe he's succeeded in that mission, others not - all for one reason or another. That will be debated ad absurdum, particularly since Obama handed the MSM the spectacle it's always craved, filled with ample opportunities for them to burnish their resumes for gossip mags everywhere.

Obama's improved poll numbers aside, there was no greater boon to his candidacy than the al-Maliki endorsement of his 16-month timetable for phased withdrawal from Iraq. I mean, that was like your new significant other inviting you home to meet the parents and they hand you the keys to a Mercedes. But the key was maintaining that momentum and aside from a naked attempt by the Pentagon to set Obama up in Germany (and the similarly transparent attempt to exploit it), Obama did that. Leaders tripped all over themselves to meet with the guy, his Berlin speech was inspiring and effective and his Israel jaunt was flawless.

The man looked like the President of the United States. And for a Black man to accomplish that in foreign countries is unprecedented.

However, as I reflect on his trip, I'm not inclined to write about how his juxtaposition in certain photos will lead American voters to consider him worthy of the worldly stage. Instead, the thought I constantly returned to as I watched the once and future president abroad was: be careful what you wish for.

This common cliche is true in this case, but on more levels than you may expect.

The obvious is that John McCain, in true street tough fashion, dared Obama to take the trip he may not have otherwise taken, and it came back to bite him square in the patootie. (McCain didn't do himself any favors in the duration, crying all week about the nerve of reporters to cover the trip.)

But what does Obama do with what he's now sown? He wanted international cred; the pictures alone take care of that, let alone any substantive conversation with foreign leaders that may or may not bear fruit come 2009. He wanted Americans to see him as, well, an American abroad.

It seems that the backlash against the Bush doctrine would indicate that Americans are sick of being regarded by the world as sycophantic bullies, a bunch of Biff Tannens with tanks, planes, guns and worst of all, blinders. But we'd be wrong.

See, I think that a lot of Americans have fallen in love with being the bad guy. It's just so much easier. Hating is easier. It's just so much more colorful to pick a fight with France, for instance, instead of actually understanding their perspective. It's so much easier to curse any brown person in the Middle East and back Israel 100%, rather than getting to the bottom of an enormously complicated conflict. It's so much easier to be a part of Planet Xeno, cursing everything that is different.

Being a bully is a cinch.

What Obama did with his trip was the latest chapter in his epic effort to get Americans to believe not just in him, but in themselves. While John McCain seems intent to appeal to Americans' worst instincts, Obama is the only candidate to have had a real shot at the Presidency that is not depending on voters being stupid. Quite the contrary.

Obama has staked his electoral viability partially on the notion that Americans would reject the Swiftboating strategy of the Right, considering what hell it has wrought in Bush's seven-plus years in office. Obama had to know this was a more difficult undertaking than might be expected - there are a lot of people who don't seem to value their own intelligence as much as they should. "Change You Can Believe In" is not easy, and catering to the lowest denominator is. But one of Obama's most endearing qualities is that he treats us like adults. His trip abroad was one big question wrapped up in meetings, handshakes, speeches and interviews: can America behave as intelligently as we all know it can, or would it simply take the easy, "bully" route that Bush and Planet Xeno have made so popular?

I'm not implying at all that simply preferring Obama is a sign of someone's inherent intelligence. (Why, that's be so...uppity!) But here's the thing - why on earth would you want to vote for a candidate that didn't respect your intelligence? Yes, he wanted to burnish his own bonafides, but it was much deeper than that. Obama is counting on America to take a good look not just at the world, but at themselves in the process. His trip asked us to look beneath the photo-op and and think very deeply about the case for his expansive, global American vision.

The verdict rendered on November 4 may depend greatly on whether or not Obama made that case well enough in these past few days.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You nailed it!! This should be required reading for Obama's staff (as if they don't already know).I've read a lot of your posts on TPM. Keep it going!

July 29, 2008 at 10:30 AM  

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