He should do a "listening tour." But not in the US, overseas. And of course he shouldn't call it a "listening tour," for obvious reasons. He should characterize it in these terms:
"With the help of--and he names a tough mainstream foreign policy Democrat like, say, Richard Holbrooke, and a more progressive but venerable type like Mort Halperin, and then a younger, more leftie, but still "responsible" type like--who is there?"
Whatever, you get the idea. I am talking about types, not individuals. This is about winning the primaries. Then he goes on:
"I have been reflecting long and hard on the challenges our nation will face in the 21st century. One thing is clear. The ideologies of the past cannot provide an analysis of the problems we now face. We have to move beyond outdated categories left over from the 20th century. We have to conceive of the world as it is now, and is likely to be in the future--and that is a radically different place from what it was a few short decades ago. Terrorism, climate change, infectious diseases, information age trade imbalances--these are not merely national problems, these are global problems and they will only yield to global solutions...etc., etc..."
Then he announces an itinerary, emphasizing that he is traveling as a private citizen, with no intent to represent anything or anybody but himself. His purpose is to listen and to learn. Then he thanks his various hosts (a list of the most highly placed officials he can snag in the various countries, but also younger up-and-coming stars, like 36 year old Rahul Gandhi who is now bidding fair to lead India's next generation) for their willingness to share their perspectives. Then he takes off and sequesters himself for serious periods of time with these people, but does not hold news conferences afterwards. Instead, he chats with reporters during travel time and, while refusing to share any details of his discussions, keeps hammering home the theme of "new global problems, new global solutions, outworn ideologies of the past (i.e.: the Clintons, but no need to be explicit).
The countries need to be carefully chosen. Obama's global persona is his great asset, but it carries a great risk. He has to position himself as the man who actually can be a world leader, in an entirely new sense of the term, while at the same time leaving no doubt that he will be, first and foremost, America's president. The way to do that is to say something like "America is, as a matter of fact, the most powerful country on earth, and with that power goes the responsibility to lead--not by bullying and bribing--but by offering a new vision... etc... etc..."
I don't mean to sound cynical. This is about winning the primaries.
So, maybe Japan, Germany, India, Brazil, and there has to be one Muslim country, but this is risky ground--maybe Turkey? Also an African country, I guess? Kenya would be the obvious choice, but now we see the risk made real. Masses of people might turn out to greet him, but so joyously that it would look like a homecoming. Can't afford that until after he's president. So, not Kenya; maybe South Africa itself. I'm just not sure about the Africa piece, that's the truth. Any ideas?
But the point is this: the possibility of crowds spontaneously showing up for him in any of these countries is what I am getting at in this post. And with the right preparation it could happen. Think of the impact of that on the primaries. The people of the world--in Japan and India and all those countries, looking to America again as a beacon...
Imagine the pictures. Heartbreaking hope. Beyond audacious. Powerful enough, perhaps, to inspire Obama to actually be what he could be...