Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Proposal for Obama

Problem: McCain will define himself as tough and resolute in foreign policy, committed to defending us vulnerable Americans from the wolves near and far. Implicitly, and perhaps explicitly, this will paint Obama as weak, confused and incapable of assuring our safety. This is a matter of images, not reality, of course, but that’s how elections work.

Analysis: Obama’s counter-image is that he will restore America to respect around the world, rebuilding alliances and replacing bellicosity with diplomacy. Against this backdrop, McCain’s foreign policy would take on the hue of Bush, continued. One challenge Obama faces is how to convey this impression visually and viscerally. Fear and retaliation are easier to package than cooperation.

Solution: Obama should undertake a foreign campaign trip this summer, publicly appealing to American voters overseas, including both civilians and military expats. He could explain that America is itself now globalized, with its citizens scattered across the continents. His trip could then be portrayed as a campaign swing like any other. But holding enthusiastic mass rallies across Europe and Asia especially, Obama could deliver exactly the we-are-the-world images that would give emotional resonance to his political stance. Honestly, I don’t see what McCain could do to diminish the power of this strategy.


Anonymous said...

I think the right wing would spin it as Obama trying to get approval from foreigners. Foreign rallies would be attended by foreigners (as well as ex-pats), who would then be portrayed as the main audience. Remember when Kerry said he would consult with our allies? That turned into "Kerry will do whatever the French want him to do."

Peter Dorman said...

Anonymous, that would be true if Obama foregrounded his meetings with foreign leaders. The point of popular rallies would not be to get consensus from foreign governments but to demonstrate a sort of communion with global publics. To repeat myself, this is a matter of imagery. What will sell Obama is not shots of him with foreign politicians but scenes of enthusiastic support from "the people".

Diane Warth said...

Obama is now running to be more like Bush than McCain. If he is not weak, confused and incapable then he is a master manipulator and untrustworthy.

If he wins the election, his term promises to be a painful lesson that fools hope for change and the wise collect resumes.

J.Goodwin said...

Well, your problem is, that either Obama is "visiting foreign leaders attempting to short-circuit the in-place administration" or he's visiting military bases.

There's not a whole lot of middle ground, and I'm not sure how it helps.

kevin quinn said...

Diane, why do you say that Obama is running to "be more like Bush than McCain"? In what respect?

Diane Warth said...

Foreign policy, at least, revealed in Obama's speech on Latin America, delivered to the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami 23 May 2008, and in the speech that he delivered to the AIPAC convention 4 June 2008.

Diane Warth said...

Peter might be interested to read this if he hasn't already:

"Obama considering world tour ahead of August convention"

With a foreign trip under discussion in the Obama camp, any itinerary almost certainly would include a stop in Iraq. That would be his first trip to the war zone since early 2006. It would be designed to answer Republican presidential candidate John McCain's criticism that antiwar Obama can't talk credibly about withdrawing U.S. forces since he hasn't been on the ground there since the 2007 troop buildup brought some military success.

While he's at it, Obama may extend his journey to other parts of the globe, especially Western Europe, where his racial mix, youth, optimism and themes of anti-Bush, multilateral diplomacy have generated impassioned interest in his candidacy.

Obama advisers are eager to find a way to harness his popularity overseas to boost his appeal to undecided voters back home, and to show that the 46-year-old freshman senator from Illinois can compete with McCain on foreign policy. While the Arizona senator is a veteran of war and Washington — and 25 years Obama's senior — his support for the Iraq war puts him on the losing side of public opinion.