By MARSHA MERCER
By their gifts, you shall know them -- and Barack gave David a spiffy grill, custom-made by Americans in the heartland.
When President Obama played host to Prime Minister David Cameron of Great Britain this week, they were conspicuously first-name pals. On their guys’ night out, the world leaders ate hot dogs, drank Cokes and watched a college basketball game – as cameras captured the delicious moment.
Obama’s job approval rating may rise and fall, but the prime minister’s visit to Washington shows that, with attention to detail and image, this president can use his official duties to serve both his political and policy goals.
There was no shortage of thorny issues – Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, the sour world economy – but the visit also provided a brief respite from bad news through sweet symbolism. With such a deft touch, Obama will be formidable in November, even if gas is well over $4 a gallon.
For various reasons, the Republican presidential contenders in 2012 have to work to be “regular guys.” Obama seems to come by regular guy-hood naturally, which is a surprise, given the pummeling he has taken for his international upbringing and Ivy League education.
Creating an image through the news media is far from effortless.
On Tuesday, Obama flew Cameron on Air Force One to the NCAA game in Dayton, Ohio, a crucial swing state. Meanwhile first lady Michelle Obama took Samantha Cameron, the PM’s wife, to a Let’s Move event in Washington, where Mrs. Obama announced that she would be representing the United States at the 2012 Olympics in London. The Olympics, she said, are about more than winning.
To win re-election, though, Obama has to fight allegations that he’s un-American. To dispense once and for all with the birth certificate controversy, nothing says “born in the USA” like dad standing over a grill in the backyard. The grill Obama gave Cameron was also jobs-sensitive.
No ordinary grill made in China, this wood-and-charcoal number was handmade by Engelbrecht Grills and Cookers of Paxton, Ill., 100 percent made in America.
The White House said the grill symbolized the personal friendship between the Obamas and the Camerons and commemorated the Obamas’ visit last May to 10 Downing Street where the couples grilled and served food to American and British members of the armed forces.
The gift exchange is routine during visits with foreign dignitaries, but gifts are tricky. Most people may not know what to do about Iran, but everybody’s an expert in gift giving.
Obama hasn’t always gotten the gift right. When he presented Queen Elizabeth an iPod loaded with audios of his 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention and his inaugural address, it smacked of me-ism. He once gave former Prime Minister Gordon Brown 25 classic American movie DVDs, which reportedly could not be played on British DVD players.
If the grill fired right up, the ping-pong table the Camerons gave the Obamas also scored. That gift suggested that dad-in-chief Obama cedes nothing in the family fun department to Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, fathers of five sons and seven children, respectively.
The theme of Wednesday’s state dinner was “America’s Backyard,” and guests supped under fancy tents on the South Lawn on a “winter harvest” menu that included greens and early lettuce from the White House garden, an Obama innovation.
The guest list for state dinners is as closely scrutinized as Michelle Obama’s gowns, so reporters noticed that nearly four dozen of the 364 dinner guests were top fundraisers for the Obama re-election campaign.
A British commentator grumped that Obama’s use of the dinner honoring the prime minister as a campaign prop was “vulgar and insulting.”
On the other hand, some American news organizations pointed out how we know that Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, and Warren Buffett, the billionaire sage of Omaha, and the other swells are collecting large sums for the Obama campaign. It’s because the campaign has released the names of bundlers; none of the Republican presidential contenders have.
Obama is hardly the first president to use the White House bully pulpit to strut his stuff in an election year. The question is whether he can keep doing it so well.
©2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.