Sunday 27 July 2008
By: Frank Rich, The New York Times
Frank Rich writes about how Barack Obama has become "acting president," and raises questions about John McCain's "fitness to be president."
It almost seems like a gag worthy of "Borat": A smooth-talking rookie senator with an exotic name passes himself off as the incumbent American president to credulous foreigners. But to dismiss Barack Obama's magical mystery tour through old
He never would have been treated as a president-in-waiting by heads of state or network talking heads if all he offered were charisma, slick rhetoric and stunning visuals. What drew them instead was the raw power Mr. Obama has amassed: the power to start shaping events and the power to move markets, including TV ratings. (Even "Access Hollywood" mustered a 20 percent audience jump by hosting the Obama family.) Power begets more power, absolutely.
The growing Obama clout derives not from national polls, where his lead is modest. Nor is it a gift from the press, which still gives free passes to its old bus mate John McCain. It was laughable to watch journalists stamp their feet last week to try to push Mr. Obama into saying he was "wrong" about the surge. More than five years and 4,100 American fatalities later, they're still not demanding that Mr. McCain admit he was wrong when he assured us that our adventure in
Never mind. This election remains about the present and the future, where
Looking back now, we can see that the fortnight preceding the candidate's flight to
On July 17 we learned that President Bush, who had labeled direct talks with
Within 24 hours, the White House did another U-turn, endorsing an
But it's not merely the foreign policy consensus that is shifting Obama-ward. The
The Obama stampede is forcing Mr. McCain to surrender on other domestic fronts. After the Democrat ran ads in 14 states berating chief executives who are "making more in 10 minutes" than many workers do in a year, a newly populist Mr. McCain began railing against "corporate greed" - much as he also followed Mr. Obama's example and belatedly endorsed a homeowners' bailout he had at first opposed. Given that Mr. McCain has already used a refitted, hand-me-down Obama campaign slogan ("A Leader You Can Believe In"), it can't be long before he takes up fist bumps. They've become the rage among young (non-terrorist) American businessmen, according to USA Today.
"We have one president at a time," Mr. Obama is careful to say. True, but the sitting president, a lame duck despised by voters and shunned by his own party's candidates, now has all the gravitas of Mr. Cellophane in "
Mr. McCain could also have stepped into the leadership gap left by Mr. Bush's de facto abdication. His inability to even make a stab at doing so is troubling. While drama-queen commentators on television last week were busy building up false suspense about the Obama trip - will he make a world-class gaffe? will he have too large an audience in
Once again the candidate was making factual errors about the only subject he cares about, imagining an Iraq-Pakistan border and garbling the chronology of the Anbar Awakening. Once again he displayed a tantrum-prone temperament ill-suited to a high-pressure 21st-century presidency. His grim-faced crusade to brand his opponent as a traitor who wants to "lose a war" isn't even a competent impersonation of Joe McCarthy. Mr. McCain comes off instead like the ineffectual Mr. Wilson, the retired neighbour perpetually busting a gasket at the antics of pesky little Dennis the Menace.
The week's most revealing incident occurred on Wednesday when the new, supposedly improved McCain campaign management finalized its grand plan to counter Mr. Obama's
When not plotting such stunts, the McCain campaign whines about its lack of press attention like a lover jilted for a younger guy. The McCain camp should be careful what it wishes for. As its relentless goading of Mr. Obama to visit Iraq only ratcheted up anticipation for the Democrat's triumphant trip, so its insistent demand for joint town-hall meetings with Mr. Obama and for more televised chronicling of Mr. McCain's wanderings could be self-inflicted disasters in the making.
Mr. McCain may be most comfortable at town-hall meetings before largely friendly crowds, but his performance under pressure at this year's G.O.P. primary debates was erratic. His sound-bite-deep knowledge of the country's No. 1 issue, the economy, is a Gerald Ford train wreck waiting to happen in any match-up with Mr. Obama that requires focused, time-limited answers rather than rambling.
During Mr. McCain's last two tours of the Middle East - conducted without the invasive scrutiny of network anchors - the only news he generated was his confusion of Sunni with Shia and his embarrassing stroll through a "safe"
The election remains Mr. Obama's to lose, and he could lose it, whether through unexpected events, his own vanity or a vice-presidential misfire. But what we've learned this month is that America, our allies and most likely the next Congress are moving toward Mr. Obama's post-Iraq vision of the future, whether he reaches the White House or not. That's some small comfort as we contemplate the strange alternative offered by the Republicans: a candidate so oblivious to our nation's big challenges ahead that he is doubling down in his campaign against both Mr. Maliki and Mr. Obama to be elected commander in chief of the surge.
Source: New York Times,
Sunday 27 July 2008