Barack Obama has not been president for three months yet, and already he’s exercising the presidential prerogative of packing up his teleprompter, his charisma and the first lady, and getting out of Dodge. When the going gets tough, the tough are eager to be gone.
The president had a busy day Monday, “rebranding” the nation’s largest automaker and firing its top executive. The bad news is that everything the government touches turns to mud. The stock markets collapsed worldwide on receipt of the news, wiping out the modest gains of last week. But the good news is that Government Motors can now include a mud pie with every Chevy sold (two mud pies with every Buick and three with a Caddy). Rick Wagoner, the dumpee at GM, now knows what it feels like to get run over by a Hummer. Only a few weeks ago, he was flying to Washington in his private corporate jet with a begging bowl in his lap. “Supersize me,” he said, confident that Congress would. It turns out that nobody in Washington was listening. Now poor Rick has only his rue and his rage and no begging bowl.
Mr. Obama, presiding over a government soon to be just as broke as GM or Chrysler, flies off to London in a corporate jet bigger, brighter and bolder than anything Mr. Wagoner and his former colleagues in Detroit can imagine. The Boeing 747 is equipped with enough electronic gadgetry and shielding to defeat an attacking squadron of the Luftwaffe and survive the effects of a nuclear blast, and the president won’t be bored on the six-hour flight across the Atlantic. The big Boeing even has a gym - not quite as big as the gym at the Y, but big enough for the president to tone his pecs and Michelle to work on the upper arms that so many flabby ladies are swooning over. (The next version of Air Force One will have a ski slope and a nine-hole golf course.) When they descend from the plane at London’s Stansted Airport, royals dispensing waves and nods to the happy singing natives, both the president and the first lady will be braced and buff, eager to unleash the magic diplomacy the president promised during the campaign.
He’s taking an entourage of only 500 of his dearest and closest pals, including 200 Secret Service bodyguards of one sort or another; his armor-plated Cadillac limousine (he owns the company now), several helicopters, six doctors and a blood bank, ready to deal with anything from an ingrown toenail to a heart transplant. His bodyguards - the London papers have tipped their readers to recognize them by their shirt-cuff radios, Ray-Ban sunglasses and 1950s haircuts - are always nervous on presidential trips, and well they might be, venturing into London’s roiling mass of faux “Englishmen.” The politically correct version of what the bodyguards fear most is an assassination attempt by unreconstructed rednecks, but the real fear is an assassination attempt by Muslim redhots - north London abounds with them - who are angry and offended that Mr. Obama blew off his Islamic birthright to become an infidel tool of the Great Satan.
The elaborate show of pelf and privilege is meant to impress, though the London audience promises to be a little tougher than he once counted on. The president will need the presidential advantage. The modern White House takes its cue from the ancient Chinese sage as translated by Lin Yutang: “A man getting drunk at a farewell party should strike a musical tone, in order to strengthen his spirit … and a drunk military man should order gallons and put out more flags in order to increase his splendor.” A politician’s ego, measured at 200 proof, is far more intoxicating than the bonded stuff.
The heads of the 20 states gathering in London are eager for argument. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is leading the assault on the British proposal for a global stimulus, which may cost $1 trillion. Or it may be $2 trillion. “I will not let anyone tell me that we must spend more money,” she said. The Spanish finance minister scoffed that no one in the “eurozone” thinks there’s room for a new stimulus plan. French President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to “radically reform” capitalism. If only America could be more like Europe. When Mr. Obama gets to France for a NATO summit, the “atmospherics” are likely to get even cooler if he says anything about the Europeans doing their part in the war on what we’re not supposed to call terror. The longer he stays away, the better America will look to Barack and even Michelle Obama.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.