By all accounts, President Obama’s trip to the G20 meeting in London has been a success. Of course, all the man had to do is not be George W. Bush. All he had to do is not give the leader of another sovereign nation a backrub on camera or give cute pet names to the Russian leader. In other words, Obama just had to show up. That would be enough to signal to the world that the America everyone used to like has returned.
Of course, there was quite a bit more at stake than the acceptance of the new President by the world economic powerhouses. The twenty nations gathered to discuss the global economic meltdown and what to do about it. Nothing gets leaders to talk serious turkey like the expectation that they are going to fix money problems for their anxious citizens. Human rights, the environment, and war all pale in comparison to the universal desire to get our collective mitts on more of the filthy lucre again. And despite eight years of eroded good will, America remains the hegemonic power on the planet. Though twenty members were present in London, the meeting might well be referred to as G1, with special guests, China ‘n Friends.
Speaking of China, the bratty pissing contest between Sarkozy and China’s president Hu Jintao over tax havens offered Obama an inaugural opportunity to play diplomat-in-chief on Tuesday. Sarkozy has made something of a crusader of himself over the issue of bringing transparency to these dubious entities. He wanted to publish a full report of the havens, an action opposed by Hu Jintao. The row was serious enough for the mercurial Gaul to threaten storming out of the meeting altogether. Obama, playing diplomatic go-between, managed to corner Hu Jintao and Sarkozy long enough to obtain a compromise that made the Chinese president happy and Sarkozy more than a little queer for the new American chief executive, saying to him “you have set a great example for a new and young US leader. This is multilateralism at its very best.” (Of course, Sarko being Sarko had to play up his role and play down Obama’s when he got home - where he is staggeringly unpopular – by claiming victory over “Anglo-Saxon capitalism” and cattily observing that Obama “didn’t know his brief,” i.e. didn’t know the ins and outs of European regulatory minutiae the way he did.)
This, barely a week after word got out that Cheney had referred to Obama as not ready for the “big leagues.” Somewhere in a sleep-deprived Obama brain, the phrase “suck it, Dick” must be ringing like a gentle bell in the President’s head.
Elsewhere, Michelle Obama visited a London girl’s school and gave a heart-felt speech to young, British girls, many of whom represent England’s uneasy multicultural aspirations.
Friends and critics alike are quick to agree that Mrs. Obama is the most inspirational First-Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. No easy task you undoubtedly feel the pressure to “represent” as the first African-American to fulfill the crucial, yet ceremonial role. She must walk the fine-line between international mother and motivational speaker. Between confident, high achiever and sensitive soul. To this extent, she has a natural antecedent in Hilary Clinton, whose own ambitions led her to rewrite the job description away from being acting as “America’s Hostess” and towards “real” work. But unlike Secretary of State Clinton, Mrs. Obama is expected to look after the very young first family. To this extent, she might envy the patrician sense of entitlement of Jackie Kennedy. But I suspect that there will still be a few school lunches made by the First Lady herself. Again, much African-Americans are expected to go above and beyond adequate. They are expected to excel. It’s a weird sort of liberalism we have here. I can just see a pasty-faced, be-speckled Harvard intellectual saying to a bigot “oh yeah? Well just you wait! My negro will be better than any white man you put up there!”
But I don’t want to sour the nice moment with too cynical an estimation of my people. I think being excellent comes as second nature to the Obamas. They are undoubtedly flawed, but they have never really known privilege. There is a humility and sincerity that is beyond the usual Success Tips of Genghis Khan, Dale Carnegie-style of being good for the sake of an agenda. After all, would the Queen of England have allowed her to touch the Royal Middle Back and then deign to touch her in return where she not somehow authentic in the eyes of Windsor?
Oh, and Sarkozy’s hot wife likes her too!