- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Barack Obama is only a candidate, but don’t tell that to the Germans, some of whom have leapfrogged that whole election thing and already are calling him “President Obama” in advance of his visit.

For that matter, his own campaign could use a reminder. For the second time in as many days, reporters traveling with Mr. Obama on his overseas trip corrected campaign staffers for saying White House practices also govern his campaign in dealing with the press, or in delivering speeches.

Even the King of Jordan gave the senator from Illinois special treatment - personally driving the presumed Democratic nominee to the airport in his Mercedes.

Meantime, Mr. Obama has met with top U.S. military commanders and engaged in negotiations with foreign leaders, prompting strong criticism from a former White House adviser who accused him of crossing the line by talking about his conversations with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

“We have a long tradition in this country that we only have one president at a time. He’s the commander in chief and the negotiator in chief. I cannot remember a campaign in which a rival seeking the presidency has been in a position negotiating a war that’s under way with another party outside the country,” David Gergen, who has served four presidents in both parties during his career, said on CNN Monday night.

The freshman senator has run into similar self-perception troubles before for a faux presidential seal on his speaking podium and for considering an address at Berlin‘s iconic Brandenburg Gate, where President Kennedy delivered his “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech during the Cold War.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposed Mr. Obama’s site selection, calling it “inappropriate” for politics.

Instead, Mr. Obama will speak Thursday at Berlin’s Victory Column, a far less lofty site commemorating Austria’s defeat in the Austro-Prussian War, in an event that is expected to draw thousands and provide footage for the campaign’s TV ads.

This was all too much for Republicans, who stepped up the pace of their regular “Audacity Watch” e-mail blast to reporters. In the past few days, the Republican National Committee has balked at the ad team’s coverage of the speech and become riled when Mr. Obama presented himself as qualified not only to win the presidential race Nov. 4 but also re-election in 2012.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Mr. Obama said the objective of his trip was “to have substantive discussions with people like [Afghan] President Karzai or [Iraqi] Prime Minister Maliki or [French] President Sarkozy or others who I expect to be dealing with over the next eight to 10 years.” That comment, and another in which he said he “never” has doubts, became fodder for another “Audacity Watch.”

The RNC also has targeted his quips about dismantling the White House bowling alley in favor of a basketball court.

“Days after securing the nomination and losing nine of the last 14 primaries, and 151 days before the general election, Barack Obama is speaking as if he has been elected and re-elected,” RNC spokesman Danny Diaz said last month after Mr. Obama suggested he would be ending his second term during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Mr. Obama’s Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, says even the press is fawning over the Democrat as if he has been elected, releasing a harsh new ad Tuesday using favorable quotes reporters have given as evidence they are in “love” with Mr. Obama.

The New Hampshire Union Leader reported Tuesday that just one reporter met the Republican at the airport when he landed for a campaign event, but Mr. Obama travels with a press corps that takes up two buses. More reporters travel with Mr. Obama than with the sitting president, and so many scribes wanted a ticket across the Atlantic with the Democratic candidate that the campaign had to turn down about 150 requests.

The McCain ad infuriated some reporters, who said their words were twisted. It was released as a record 1,300 press credential requests flooded the Chicago headquarters for Thursday’s Obama speech in Berlin.

A Berlin hotel staffer told a reporter Tuesday she was “very excited” that “President Obama” would be speaking just down the street, and mentioned her parents’ emotions of love for the United States when Mr. Kennedy spoke there in the 1960s.

At the site of the upcoming speech, a security officer explained that he and others had blocked off traffic “because the president from America is coming.”

The role of president and presidential candidate was further blurred Tuesday when a senior campaign official on the trip, who spoke to reporters on background, denied that Mr. Obama’s address in Berlin had any political overtones.

“It’s not going to be a political speech. When the president of the United States goes and gives a speech, it is not a political speech or a political rally,” the senior adviser said.

“But he is not a president of the United States,” a reporter told the adviser.

“He is going to talk about the issues as an individual … not as a candidate, but as an individual, as a senator,” Mr. Obama’s aide replied. The adviser insisted that the Berlin speech “is not for campaign purposes.”

However, after the briefing, campaign media adviser David Axelrod said in a statement that the aide’s description of the Berlin rally was inaccurate.

“The answer is that, of course, any event outside of a [congressional delegation trip] is a campaign event. But it is not a political rally. He will not engage his American political opponents. It is a speech to our allies and the people of Europe,” he said.

Later, Politico reported that an Obama staffer and former Clinton White House official told reporters that he never, in his four years in the White House, had gone on the record for a briefing. Politico reported that several reporters retorted that they weren’t in the White House.

The Republican National Committee was having a field day with these stories Tuesday, sending out press releases with the headline, “Senior Obama foreign policy adviser: Obama is president of the United States.”

If Mr. Obama’s upcoming speech in Berlin “is not political, why shoot footage for campaign ads?” the RNC said.

The Obama campaign’s efforts to elevate the candidate, who has served 3 1/2 years in the U.S. Senate, has come under increasing criticism from pundits who say his fame does not live up to his accomplishments.

“Americans are beginning to notice Obama’s elevated opinion of himself. There’s nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president,” Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer wrote last week.

“Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?” he asked.

Earlier this month, Los Angeles Times reporter Peter Nicholas wrote a story saying, “He’s not president yet, but Barack Obama has already given some thought to White House decor.”

Asked at a town hall meeting in Fargo, N.D., whether he had any decorating plans for the Lincoln Bedroom, he recalled a visit to the White House soon after he came to the Senate and seeing “this flat-screen TV in there. That didn’t seem to be appropriate. So I might take out the TV, I don’t know.”

  • Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report from Berlin.
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