DUBLIN, Ireland-Observing the start of Lord and Lady Obama's (aka president and Michelle) grand European tour and the fawning press coverage, one might conclude they were imbued with royal blood.
The normally reserved and thoughtful columnist for the Times of London, William Rees-Mogg, gushed about the president's speech before members of Parliament, comparing him to Winston Churchill. Obama is to Winston Churchill as Lady Gaga is to Ella Fitzgerald. Both are singers, but that's where the comparison ends.
In his parliamentary speech, which began with herald trumpets announcing his arrival (appropriate since Obama frequently toots his own horn by overdoing the personal pronouns "I" and "me"), the president spoke favorably of Adam Smith, the patron saint of economic conservatives. Smith's philosophy is the antithesis of President Obama's "spread the wealth around" socialist philosophy. Smith is to Obama as Ronald Reagan is to Karl Marx.
Daily Telegraph columnist Bryony Gordon claimed to have had a conversation with an unnamed Secret Service agent. She quoted the agent as saying about Michelle Obama, "She has this glamour that I haven't seen before. She isn't just a first lady. She is Hollywood." Gush.
During the Obamas' brief visit to Dublin, I lined up with thousands of people waiting to get in to hear the president's speech in College Green. I was especially interested in what young people think of the president now, since it was American youth who fueled much of the enthusiasm behind his 2008 election.
A girl of high school age said she "loves" Obama and added without prompting, "I hate President Bush."
"Why?" I asked.
She stumbled, as if entering unexplored cerebral territory. "I hate all American presidents," she said (but obviously not Obama).
"Even George Washington?"
If this girl represents what is taught here, it would appear the state of Irish education is worse than American public education.
I interviewed a middle-age man who was only slightly less enthusiastic than the high school girl. "What about his policies?" I asked. "He promised to close Guantanamo and quickly end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan."
That bothered him, but Obama's image clearly had gotten the best of his political judgment.
It was only after the Obamas had left for the G-8 meeting in France that a few in the British press began to recover from their fainting spell. Writing in The Telegraph, Andrew Gimson said, "Barack Obama's speech [to Parliament] failed to live up to his own high standards."
There were several factual errors in the president's speech, including his contention that since the War of 1812, when the British burned down the White House, "it's been smooth sailing" between the United States and Britain. Not exactly. Gimson cited one example: "Suez did not seem like plain sailing."
The president claimed, ". . . young men and women in the streets of Damascus and Cairo still reach for the rights our citizens enjoy." That is debatable, especially since the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood will be active, perhaps decisive, in the coming Egyptian election. And who knows what government will follow in Syria, should Bashar al-Assad stop killing protesters, or Libya with or without Qaddafi, or anywhere else in the Islamic world?
There were some emotional high points in the president's address, especially his reference to "the grandson of a Kenyan who served as a cook in the British Army to stand before you as president of the United States."
That brought applause, as it should have, but this is biography over which the president has no control, not policy, which he sets.
The Irish and British press put their skepticism on hold during the Obamas' visit, much as the American media regularly do with most Democratic presidents. In America, the big media have a political agenda, which is that of the Democratic Party. In Ireland and the United Kingdom, it was style over substance.
Forget Scotty McCreery, winner of TV's American Idol. As host Ryan Seacrest might put it if he were announcing the arrival of President Obama in Ireland and England: "This is our American Idol."
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