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Obama and Cameron Barbecue Diplomacy

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Obama and Cameron Barbecue Diplomacy
Photo Matt Dunham/Epa / Corbis

In the last week of May, during an official visit to London, Barack and Michelle Obama co-hosted, along with David and Samantha Cameron, an “informal” barbecue on the lawn at 10 Downing Street for decorated military soldiers and their families. While many pundits and press members seemed to marvel at the fact that – in between meetings with Parliament and before the G8 summit in France – these two members of the political and intellectual elite found time to engage in such an informal event as cooking meat outdoors with their shirtsleeves rolled up, there’s a long history of politics and barbecues. Even in the 19th Century, candidates were already luring citizens to listen to their “stump speeches” with the promise of free food for all. There’s even a cartoon from 1834 entitled “The Political Barbecue”, which shows President Andrew Jackson being roasted over the “flames” of “public opinion”.

But this last occasion was a definite success, at least in terms of media spin. After all, it gave these two highly-educated, extremely powerful politicians to show that they were just like “regular guys”. As a gesture of cultural culinary swapping, David handed out hamburgers and Barack passed out sausages, while their wives, each in spring dresses, smiled dished out the healthy salads on the grass. Cynics might call it merely a media gimmick, but those pictures have flown around the internet for a week and they’ve done exactly what they were supposed to. After watching the Obamas descend from Air Force One, after watching them greet the Royal family and the newlyweds Kate and William, after all of the formal occasions and the closed-door discussions, it’s somehow comforting to see the leader of the Free World holding a pair of tongs – and look so natural doing it. We know of course, that the daily lives of the American President and the British Prime Minister probably bear no resemblance to our own. But with the humble, informal barbecue, we can imagine that our lives resemble theirs. At least for one meal. Although most of us would have taken off our ties.

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