THE BLOG

Waiting for Obama at No. 10 Downing

09/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It was hot and humid, just like back home in Chicago.
But this was London, and I was doing something I would never do back home.
I was waiting on a Saturday morning in late July for Barack Obama with a crowd of his followers, fellow curiosity seekers and the media.
We were outside 10 Downing Street in London, as the Presidential hopeful was meeting with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Obama was looking for some photo ops--at least with the famous black door outside No. 10 Downing Street to go with a scrapbook of images with world leaders. He had been to Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territory, Jordan, France, as a Presidential Candidate appearing like a world leader, and world leaders in turn were hoping to have Obama magic dust rub off on them.
And as the Brit press might tag it: O-bama Mia.
There was that masterful stroke of political imagery, in Berlin, where 200,000 people turned out the previous Thursday as a backdrop for Obama at the Tiergarten. John McCain ate crow and bratwurst back in the USA, while Obama posed in front of the masses of people who couldn't actually vote for him, though he hoped to have some Kenndey ("Ich bin ein Berliner") and Reagan ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall") magic rub off on him.
Some joked that Obama came off as "Ich bin a beginner." His speech may not have been any great shakes. But the imagery was on a grand scale, one worthy of the chronicles of public relations and propaganda. What more can we expect these days in a media cloud?
As it happened, I was heading to England on a project for the BBC, or as a friend put it, "The British taxpayers are paying your way over?" True enough. At least Brit TV watchers were.
But this day I was on my own dime and my own time. I had a vague idea about seeing how the British public was reacting to Obama-mania.
My friend was more than game to take us over to No. 10 Downing Street to catch the spectacle. On the scale of things, this was no Tiergarten, where supposedly a crowd actually had turned out for a rock concert.
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Most of the noise in London came from a crew that was breaking up the pavement to boost security around the government complex.
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My British friends were shocked at how many Bobbies were walking around with machine guns.
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An ad truck welcoming "President Obama," with a Photoshopped picture of Obama in a derby in one shot, was causing some consternation to the copper, with a gun slung over his shoulder as he whispered into a mike.
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The crowd was small. We moved around to a side street open to the public through which Obama would have to pass after his meeting with the very unpopular Brown, who also may find himself challenged in an election soon.
There were some official "Obama '08" signs and T-shirts along with a makeshift cardboard signs. There were some expat Dems talking to a camera guy collecting adoring comments on video from Obama fans. And there was an announced Aug. 4 Obama birthday party for the growing cult of personality, There was the guy from Uganda who thought Obama could save the world. And another guy from Nigeria. There a collection of German students there to root for their man.
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My friend Jill, the political junkie, planted herself in the front row and was not going to move until Obama was out of the house. Her husband Steve suggested that my wife, son and I move on and catch up with Jill later. But inertia and curiosity kept me there, waiting for Obama.
This was no Tiergarten. I would guesstimate there were at most a couple hundred people, But no tears were being shed.
No great expectations were being held up: I spoke with some reporters working the crowd for the Sunday Mail and Forbes, who told me the Obama people had deliberately played down the event. They weren't looking for a Tiergarten-sized throng here.
How many pictures like that do you need? But they got Obama outside No.10 and also a great shot of Obama outside the British Parliament with Big Ben and Conservative leader David Cameron, who could be the next PM.
Add that to photo of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his self-described "pal" Obama. Add to that some photos from the Middle East.
The game now was about great still photos and video footage. This particular week at least, photogenic Obama skunked McCain, and I don't think, short of an Obama meltdown, the stiff and old McCain can win this battle.
I was a novelty to the reporters because I was a Chicago guy, someone who had actually voted for Obama for the Senate and, in a rare move, taking off my indie hat and requesting a Democratic ballot, had voted for him in the primary. I expect to vote for him in November.
They asked: Why did I like Obama? Some of it is symbolic. If we have a president with a "black" face, I think it will show the rest of the world that America is changing, and overcome the knee-jerk America bashing. That may seem silly, but to me it's as good a reason as any in a silly but dangerous age.
Look, back in 1972, when I voted for the first time, my presidential choice was for "unbought and unbossed" Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to be elected to Congress. Chisholm said she wasn't running for blacks or the women's movement, she was running for all Americans. I hope that can be said for Obama.
Friends who are Obama critics view him as a machine politician, a different breed from Fightin' Shirley.
But the view outside the USA is different. Obama comes off as the candidate of the world, at least Europe. British friends have asked me to vote on their behalf for Obama.
We went to Paris for a day on the Eurostar and spotted a guy outside the Louvre wearing a T-shirt with an Obama slogan. And our Parisian guide said Obama could be elected "president of France."
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Back in London, after the motorcade left, with the press and Obama gone, we finally persuaded Jill to move along.
Later that afternoon, picking up tickets at the Charing Cross station, I spotted a wearing a Chicago Bears T-shirt. That blue-and-orange shirt really stood out in, as did a White Sox hat at Hyde Park.
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I asked him if he was from Chicago. No, but he said he was a huge fan of Da' Bears and in fact was the official statistician for the Ipswich Cardinals, an "American football team" in the land of soccer. Quite the contrarian that John Goode.
I asked him what he thought of Obama. He suggested Obama might be a worthy successor to Gordon Brown.
Obama told a press conference in defense of his new buddy Gordon: "Everyone is always more popular before they take charge and once you become responsible you are going to make people unhappy - it's the nature of politics."
Obama has more immediate concerns. They may play American-style football at Ipswich and Obama may be the candidate for Berlin or even Paris. But it's not clear in the long run how images of Obama the Statesman will play in Podunk or Peoria.