Obama’s Euro trip Nail in the coffin for McCain?

Average Americans are heading to the beach. Barack Obama is coming to Europe. Both should profit from the change of scenery. The average American worker, with just 13 annual days of vacation needs to cherish those precious, restorative days off. Obama, who has had a rough couple of weeks that have seen his steady six-point lead over John McCain cut nearly in half — which is to say, it’s now within the margin of error in many polls — needs to find a milieu where he feels more appreciated.

After a handful of pirouettes on certain issues designed to move him to ideological middle ground, Obama is now seen by just more than half of Americans, according to one current poll, as someone who will tailor his positions for political advantage.McCain has done just as much so-called flip-flopping, if not more. And there is this difference between the two: whereas Obama’s “refinements” on domestic surveillance and Iraq policy have been toward the centre — an expected and traditional tack for general-election candidates to pursue — McCain’s have been entirely towards the far right, because he still has to worry about nailing down the enthusiasm of important right-wing constituencies.

So, on tax cuts, offshore oil drilling, social security and some other issues, McCain has abandoned the views that once marked him as a Republican maverick and embraced the Bush agenda. Most of the media, still showing strong traces of the McCain man-crushery that has typified his coverage for the past decade (he was tortured, and besides he really likes us, so we can’t diss him!), have failed to note this utterly crucial distinction. The result is that Obama has paid a higher price for his changes than McCain has.Obama needs an event that can break this narrative. Is his trip the answer? I say that the domestic impact of Obama’s trip to your shores will pry open a window onto a very important question — perhaps the fundamental question of this campaign — and one I’ve been wondering about since even before Obama was a candidate.

To wit: Has George Bush failed so completely that Americans are ready to reject many of the conservative assumptions that have governed their thinking since Ronald Reagan’s ascendance and embrace profoundly sweeping change, or is that a over-reading of the situation?

Asked more directly: Have Bush’s failures been failures of ideology or merely of

competence? If the former, which most people around Washington seem to think, then we can feel pretty safe predicting a smashing Democratic victory. If the latter, though, it could mean that voters are still OK with conservative governance, they just want someone who will administer it competently.

It’s the dominant open question of this race. Here’s where Europe fits in. Six years ago, no prominent Democrat would ever have set foot in France or Germany (Britain got a pass, not only because Tony Blair made war with Bush but for cultural and historic reasons, too). They were “old Europe”. Enemies of freedom. Democrats, while maybe grumbling privately, bought into this Bush-Donald Rumsfeld view publicly. They were terrified to do otherwise.

With this trip, Obama wants to signal: no more of that. I will govern an America that will commit itself to liberal internationalism again. We’ll work with our allies, and our country’s hideously sullied world reputation will be restored. Undoubtedly, he also knows that, assuming the trip is gaffe-free, he will be received by adoring crowds — Obamamania is worldwide, and it is real.

He and his people surely hope that the images of those swooning crowds, transmitted back to America, will remind his countrymen, if only subconsciously, of Bush’s worst failures, and why they were in fact failures of ideology and not merely of competence (intentionally pushing old allies away was an ideological choice). And, team Obama hopes, Americans will say to themselves: “Yes, that was a disgrace. No more of that. I’m with Obama.” Then, of course, there’s the Israel-Jordan leg, which has a double purpose.

It, too, is meant to do all the above, and to highlight the ways the Bush — and by extension the McCain — approach has failed the region. But it is also intended to placate Jewish concerns about Obama’s commitment to Israel, which is a different goal, and may make that part of the tour harder to pull off. The showcase images, though, will come from Europe; whether it’s the Brandenburg Gate or not isn’t that relevant.

Will it work? My guess is that enough Americans, 50% or so, would agree that Bush’s failures, especially in the realm of international relations, have been about ideology as well as competence. Fifty-something per cent want to reconnect with Europe under US leadership like that which Obama promises. So, while there may not be much room for error, there is reason to hope that in the long term enough Americans want to rejoin the world. And so in the short term it could help Obama refind his footing. - The Guardian