By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Barack Obama has long been his party's presumptive nominee. Now he's becoming its presumptuous nominee.
Fresh from his presidential-style world tour, during which foreign leaders and American generals lined up to show him affection, Obama settled down to some presidential-style business in Washington yesterday. He ordered up a teleconference with the (current president's) Treasury secretary, granted an audience to the Pakistani prime minister and had his staff arrange for the chairman of the Federal Reserve to give him a briefing. Then, he went up to Capitol Hill to be adored by House Democrats in a presidential-style pep rally.
Along the way, he traveled in a bubble more insulating than the actual president's. Traffic was shut down for him as he zoomed about town in a long, presidential-style motorcade, while the public and most of the press were kept in the dark about his activities, which included a fundraiser at the Mayflower where donors paid $10,000 or more to have photos taken with him. His schedule for the day, announced Monday night, would have made Dick Cheney envious:
11:00 a.m.: En route TBA.
12:05 p.m.: En route TBA.
1:45 p.m.: En route TBA.
2:55 p.m.: En route TBA.
5:20 p.m.: En route TBA.
The 5:20 TBA turned out to be his adoration session with lawmakers in the Cannon Caucus Room, where even committee chairmen arrived early, as if for the State of the Union. Capitol Police cleared the halls -- just as they do for the actual president. The Secret Service hustled him in through a side door -- just as they do for the actual president.
Inside, according to a witness, he told the House members, "This is the moment . . . that the world is waiting for," adding: "I have become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions."
As he marches toward Inauguration Day (Election Day is but a milestone on that path), Obama's biggest challenger may not be Republican John McCain but rather his own hubris.
Some say the supremely confident Obama -- nearly 100 days from the election, he pronounces that "the odds of us winning are very good" -- has become a president-in-waiting. But in truth, he doesn't need to wait: He has already amassed the trappings of the office, without those pesky decisions.
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reported last week that Obama has directed his staff to begin planning for his transition to the White House, causing Republicans to howl about premature drape measuring. Obama was even feeling confident enough to give British Prime Minister Gordon Brown some management advice over the weekend. "If what you're trying to do is micromanage and solve everything, then you end up being a dilettante," he advised the prime minister, portraying his relative inexperience much as President Bush did in 2000.
On his presidential-style visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem last week, Obama left a written prayer, intercepted by an Israeli newspaper, asking God to "help me guard against pride and despair." He seems to have the despair part under control, but the pride could be a problem.
One source of the confidence is the polling, which shows him with a big lead over McCain. But polls are fickle allies: A USA Today-Gallup poll released Monday found McCain leading Obama by four percentage points among likely voters. Another reason for Obama's confidence -- the press -- is also an unfaithful partner. The Project for Excellence in Journalism reported yesterday that Obama dominated the news media's attention for a seventh straight week. But there are signs that the Obama campaign's arrogance has begun to anger reporters.
In the latest issue of the New Republic, Gabriel Sherman found reporters complaining that Obama's campaign was "acting like the Prom Queen" and being more secretive than Bush. The magazine quoted the New York Times' Adam Nagourney's reaction to the Obama campaign's memo attacking one of his stories: "I've never had an experience like this, with this campaign or others." Then came Obama's overseas trip and the campaign's selection of which news organizations could come aboard. Among those excluded: the New Yorker magazine, which had just published a satirical cover about Obama that offended the campaign.
Even Bush hasn't tried that. But then again, Obama has been outdoing the president in ruffles and flourishes lately. As Bush held quiet signing ceremonies in the White House yesterday morning, Obama was involved in a more visible display of executive authority a block away, when he met with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani at the Willard. A full block of F Street was shut down for the prime minister and the would-be president, and some 40 security and motorcade vehicles filled the street.
Later, Obama's aides issued an official-sounding statement, borrowing the language of White House communiques: "I had a productive and wide-ranging discussion. . . . I look forward to working with the democratically elected government of Pakistan."
It had been a long day of acting presidential, but Obama wasn't done. After a few hours huddling with advisers over his vice presidential choice, Obama made his way to the pep rally on the Hill. Moments after he entered the meeting with lawmakers, there was an extended cheer, followed by another, and another.
"I think this can be an incredible election," Obama said later. "I look forward to collaborating with everybody here to win the election."
Win the election? Didn't he do that already?