First he was Irish, then he was British and now he’s Polish, too.
US President Barack Obama, during a week traveling through Europe, used his personal story to woo a continent some feel he has neglected, while simultaneously reaching out to important political constituencies back home.
From Ireland to Britain to Poland, Obama — the son of a Kenyan father and a Kansas mother — discovered and exploited his European roots, delighting foreign crowds and signing images that could turn up in presidential campaign commercials next year.
“My name is Barack Obama — of the Moneygall Obamas — and I’ve come home to find the apostrophe that we lost along the way,” Obama, joking about the “Irish” spelling of his name, told a crowd of 25,000 in Dublin, hours after visiting the town where his great-great-great grandfather once lived.
The crowd loved it and references to his roots continued at his next stop in London.
“I bring warm greetings from tens of millions of Americans who claim British ancestry, including me, through my mother’s family,” he told the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II.
In Warsaw, he talked about his hometown of Chicago and adopted one of its more prominent ethnic groups as his own.
“If you live in Chicago and you haven’t become a little bit Polish, then something’s wrong with you,” he said at a press conference with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
The result? The US’ first -African-American president connecting himself personally to three of the four European countries he visited, burnishing his credentials on the continent after an emphasis on Asia in the first years of his administration sparked concern that US focus had shifted dramatically eastward.
Heather Conley, a Europe expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the visit showed Obama could reach out to the “Atlantic Community” in the West and the Asia Pacific region in the East at the same time.
“The visit accomplishes its mission,” she said. “He was certainly clarifying that his personal narrative goes in both directions.”
That accomplishment may be the main one on a trip that was heavy on imagery, but light on substance.
In France — the one country where he did not claim an ancestral or cultural bond — Obama met with fellow leaders from the G8 industrial nations, all of which adopted a unified position that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi must go.
However, that was a rare foreign policy achievement on an otherwise largely ceremonial six-day tour.
White House advisers believe that the images of Obama dining with the British queen and meeting with international leaders will quell lingering criticism from opponents that he is a lightweight on the world stage.
Public compliments from British Prime Minister David Cameron about the successful US operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden also reinforced Obama’s political strength in the area of national security.
With potential Republican rivals competing to establish their own presidential qualifications, Obama’s trip also helped him appear above the domestic political fray.
Creating enduring images for tens of millions of Irish Americans, a significant voting bloc, and US citizens of British and Polish -decent was also a plus.
“The president’s political consultants got some great video for his 2012 TV ads,” said Larry Sabato, a politics professor at the University of Virginia. “The Irish stop was golden for the millions who trace their ancestry to Eire. The appealing scenes with the royals can be recycled.”