European Press More Skeptical of Obama Than Ours

As the Democrat’s convention week dawned, The Times of London ran a curious headline: “Barack Obama prepares for his flamboyant tilt at the White House.”  The mind’s eye blinked a bit trying to visualize someone executing a “flamboyant tilt.”

Reporting for The Times from Denver, Tom Baldwin and Tim Reid launched their Convention Diary by observing:  “Somewhere in the midst of all the razzamatazz, security scares and psycho babble about The Clintons’ state of mind, Barack Obama has an important message. The trouble, say some worried Democrats, is that it is not getting through.”  To illustrate the ugly reality behind attempts to choreograph a show of party unity, Baldwin and Reid quoted Jesse Jackson Jr.’s lament that the wounds from the nomination battle had become infected with a “little bit of pus.”  Ouch.  Conversely they described the scene in the Pepsi Center as “part theme park gift shop and part sales conference” and seemed amused that “every 20 minutes or so, a live band strikes up and everybody gets up to dance or wave their placards.”

Gerard Baker, U.S. editor for The Times, acknowledged that “speech-making is what Sen. Obama does best,” but he went on to wonder if that same soaring rhetoric could also bring him down.  Baker explained: “His very ability to move audiences with words and dramatic set-piece performances is now part of the principal critique of him by his opponents: that he is a profoundly inexperienced young man who has done no more in his short public life than give great speeches. The more he inspires and moves his followers with great speeches the more glaring the gap between his speaking talent and his callowness appears.”

The UK liberal leaning New Statesman Magazine, arguably pro-Obama on political grounds, proclaimed “Obama Comes Out Fighting,” but it was very hard on the handling of the Invesco Pageant.   The Stateman’s reporter, Andrew Stevens, revealed that 20,000 more tickets were handed out than there were seats in the stadium. This was done to make sure that the 80,000 seats were filled for Obama’s speech, but it left many disgruntled people waiting in lines for a very long time with a number ultimately being turned away.  

Stevens characterized this as “thoroughly political and highly calculated.” He was also put off by certain media people’s abandoning any hint of impartiality as exemplified by CNN’s main anchorman “getting up and dancing — off camera — with an Obama strategist.”   As for the acceptance speech, Stevens labeled it “a shopping list of all the positive things an Obama administration would deliver.”

The purpose-driven acceptance staging of The Invesco Center event became a target for many a wry remark, especially when news leaked out that the same folks did the set for Brittany Spears’ last concert.  Once it was seen on TV, the Greek Temple analogies were dropped in favor of snappier fare like “The Mile High West Wing.”  One panoramic newspaper photo of Sen. Obama delivering his speech, with his image looming large on screens to either side of him, bore the caption:  “Barack Obama can play an already compliant audience like the proverbial violin.”  

Several articles pondered the custom of inviting the wives of candidates to give speeches at Party conventions. This is simply not done in either Britain or Europe. It is laughable to them.  Simon Heffer of the Telegraph suggested that this indicates America has — ironically — become entranced by the idea of having a family on the throne. “We have had the Bush family ad nauseum, the Kennedys ditto — with old Ted yanked from his sickbed to endorse Mr. Obama in a stunt that made On Golden Pond seem light on sentimentality.”  How, the European press wondered, could so many people fall for this kind of Hollywood hype?
Gabor Steingart, writing in Germany’s Der Spiegel, said that it would be a mistake to assume the throngs who listened to Obama’s speech in Berlin agreed with what he said, describing the Senator’s campaign as “a romantic revolution.”  Steingart explained that there is a vast difference in Europe between “romantic democrats” and those with common sense.  Steingart then listed all of the promises Obama made in his acceptance speech and said “it’s possible to be impressed by all this — or to find it shameless.”  

Horst Teltschik, a former adviser to former Chancellor Helmut Kohl, assessed Obama’s Berlin appearance as ambivalent because it was unlikely that a German politician would draw such a big crowd at the Washington Monument.  He added: “His opponent, John McCain, has been coming to Germany every year for decades. He knows all the most important politicians personally.”

The UK Telegraph’s reporter, Tim Shipman, closed out his convention diary with a religious round-up under the headline: “Barack Obama’s Messiah complex and other tricky questions.”  Shipman quoted an unnamed Democrat strategist as saying that Obama had not gone far enough in proclaiming himself “The One,” laying into the candidate for being wishy washy at the faith forum when he said that conception and abortion questions were above his pay grade.  The Dem exclaimed, “The President of the United States is God. He’s more God than God. He can kill six billion people, just like that, by pressing a button. Unless there’s a major Biblical plague, God doesn’t get close.”  This ought to prove that there is unquestionably a religious left with an evangelically apocalyptic wing.

Because of time zone differences, the news of Sarah Palin becoming John McCain’s running mate did not get a full press court until the late news cycles in Europe.  The BBC homepage story headline was short and sweet: “McCain Unveils ‘The Barracuda.’" 

The Palin decision was preliminarily deemed either risky or brilliant.  Everyone scrambled for 18 hours to get up to speed.  By Sunday, The Times had a different spin.  It ran a photo of the attractive Governor Palin as if she were the cover girl for a car magazine and announced: “Conservatives find the girl of their dreams.”  Despite the misogynistic element in the headline, the article went on to describe Palin’s life as the all-American story and credited her with instantly re-energizing the McCain campaign.  In true British fashion, another article said that Governor Palin’s clothes and glasses made her look like “a naughty librarian.”
There is bound to be some condescension in world coverage of the Palin candidacy because the rest of the world long ago began electing powerful women to their highest offices.  What can be seen so far is the sharp contrast between McCain’s introduction of Palin and the ho-hum response to the news that Joe Biden would be Obama’s running mate.   The general European media consensus on that selection was “No Threat.  But no Asset.”  The Times‘ editorialist, William Rees-Mogg, opined that by rejecting Hillary for “a politician with a murky record,” Obama might have lost his bid for the White House.   Another reporter wondered why Senator Biden was being celebrated more for having lost a wife and child in a car crash than for his voting record and political achievements.

The International Herald Tribune called Palin’s entrance into the campaign “pivotal,” a “contest recast” that would force both parties to revamp their election year strategies.
The article concluded that the Obama camp would be wise not to run any campaign ads against Palin because they would be sure to backfire.  Considering the speed at which an initial negative remark against Governor Palin came flying out of the Obama spin machine, one is tempted to bet this advice will not be heeded.