Saturday, April 4, 2009
"I'm in love!" said a British reporter at the end of Obama's presentation. Yes, it was a lot like love.
It had been President Obama's debut at a major global summit. American and British negotiators had obviously not achieved what they had sought in terms of stimulus spending from Germany and France. The superpower may have been willing to lead, but even close American allies in the G20 were not about to sign up to any new American-led initiative -- at least not just yet.
One slightly enigmatic phrase by Gordon Brown -- unthinkable less than a decade ago -- seemed to have pegged what was on everyone's mind.
"The old Washington Consensus is over. . . " proclaimed the prime minister of America's closest overseas ally.
Gordon Brown no doubt meant "big C" consensus, but -- judging by questions later asked of other world leaders -- it might just as easily have implied consensus with a "small c." This summit seemed to mark the end, not of any specific Washington agreement, but the entire postwar era in which American leadership went unquestioned. It was as if the most harsh unspoken truth had just been shouted aloud from the friendliest foreign shore.
Yet the Americans had one card up their sleeves that every other G20 nation -- save for a brilliantly orchestrated performance by Gordon Brown -- sorely lacked. And it only took two words to ignite the fuse.
"Hello everybody!" said Obama.
One blogger told me that on hearing those two words everyone in the room was awestruck.
"Collectively we all gasped," the blogger told me.
While Obama was making his way onto the stage in Press Room 1, I was stuck in Press Room 5 waiting for the president of India to finish answering a question about Pakistan. That's the moment when applause followed by Obama's voice boomed through the curtain walls.
The quiet spoken President Singh was no match for star power. What kept those two dozen Indian journalists bolted to their seats? Couresy? National pride? I will never know, but five questions later -- as Singh scanned the room for another lucky reporter -- I made a break for the door, dodging laptop bags and crossed-legs.
Holding my camera, I crawled onto the carpet at the foot of the stage where Obama was now answering questions.
The expressions on the faces of journalists pleading to be picked by Obama caught my eye. The global news media representatives -- with whom I had spent the whole day -- suddenly resembled kids at a rock concert.
In the past hour, I been in the presence of the leaders of Canada, Australia, Italy, and France. But this was something else. It certainly had little to do with the stage or the packed auditorium. It was the relaxed figure at the front of the room. Natural. Joking with us. Even the secret service guy who I shared the carpet with seemed at ease in this environment. By contrast, Stephen Harper's press conference had been a staring contest with two grouchy Canadian Mounties; Sarkozy's session resembled a rugby scrum; Kevin Rudd's felt like a contract-law seminar; Silvio Berlusconi's seemed to be some kind of seance.
But Obama was one of us!
Even having to hear the simpleton questions of several American journalists failed to break the spell. Members of the US press seemed to be asking the kinds of questions you would ask if you no idea about the specific issues that had been on the table at the summit. It's as if some American reporters believe journalism means asking questions as simple-minded as you presume your viewing audience to be.
But Americans are smarter than their media. The proof was staring us in the face.
All photos by Jotman.
Posted by Jotman on Saturday, April 04, 2009