Obama's tour marks beginning of the campaign - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Obama's tour marks beginning of the campaign

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Posted: Sunday, August 3, 2008 8:01 pm | Updated: 10:02 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Memo to the Obama campaign: It's too early to start measuring the drapes.

Too early to be thinking of the inaugural ball, fancy titles, the state dinners, the portal-to-portal service to and from work, the codes to the Situation Room, the Rose Garden, and all those rich moments on the Truman Balcony.

Sen. Barack Obama has spent the past eight months or so telling Americans what he thinks about the world. Now he is finding out what the world thinks about him.

So far, it is quite the pretty picture. But it is also important to remember that is about all it is. Really well-done photo ops. Obama shaking soldiers' hands, talking with commanders in Afghanistan, riding in a helicopter with Gen. David Petraeus, speaking with the dramatic background of Amman, Jordan, touching the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and evoking John F. Kennedy near the Brandenburg Gate in Germany.

Memo to the McCain campaign: When you see a photo of Obama riding with Petraeus, counter with something other than Sen. John McCain riding in a golf cart with former President Bush, looking spiffy but oh-so-comfortable in retirement.

Every presidential campaign carries its own unpredictable cyclical rhythms. No matter how good things might look, it is early August, not November.

Recall that in June 1992, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was in third place behind then-President Bush and billionaire Ross Perot. In 1988, Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis came roaring out of the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta with a 17-point lead over the aforementioned elder Bush.

So, just as the Chicago Cubs can't make it to the World Series by having the best record in baseball at the All-Star break, Obama still has a steep hill to climb to actually win the magic 270 Electoral College votes that would make him the next president.

It would not be surprising to see McCain supporters argue that Obama is doing a victory lap without the hard work of actually winning over the American voter and engaging in a real series of debates with the presumptive Republican nominee.

They would talk about the perceived sense of entitlement and the presumptuousness of "looking presidential" without the benefit of having won the office. They would use that to underscore another simmering criticism of Obama, that some find him arrogant and aloof, and decidedly not the guy who can relate to Joe Six-Pack. Cue the bowling video!

A recent Wall Street Journal poll found that Americans remain concerned about Obama's experience and his background. McCain provides an easier point of connection with many voters because they can better relate to his life story.

On the other hand, as the poll also demonstrated, Obama is the clear beneficiary of a far more enthusiastic cadre of supporters. McCain might be seen as safe, but he doesn't make the pulse race.

Voters angry about the state of the economy, who project most of their animus toward the current President Bush, also provide Obama with an opportunity that far exceeds McCain's.

Obama's world tour, though, was not about the economy. And, to be sure, Obama did more than pose for photographs. Though the trip was clearly more attuned to the imperatives of domestic politics, some of his answers were clearly intended for the broader world. And his words in Berlin matched the moment.

"Tonight, I speak to you not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world. ...

"This city, of all cities, knows the dream of freedom. And you know that the only reason we stand here tonight is because men and women from both of our nations came together to work, and struggle, and sacrifice for that better life."

Those words were strong and the reaction to them was overwhelmingly positive. But the trip signals more the true start of the general election campaign than it does the outcome.

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