The White House supplies "the single greatest home court advantage in the modern world," says a character in Aaron Sorkin's witty 1995 film "The American President." Camp David is a pretty close second. And when President Obama hosts the G8 summiteers there this weekend, he'll not only be giving a back-to-the-future flavor to that hoary gathering--making it relevant again for the first time in years--but also looking very, very presidential.
Want a photo of Barack Obama at Camp David for your refrigerator? Stand by. The White House will be supplying plenty of 'em between now and November.
That's not to say that the decision to shift this year's G8 to Camp David wasn't at least partly driven by sound policy reasons. More so than at any time, perhaps, since the currency battles of the 1980s, this year's G8 summit is a place where critical decisions could be made, mainly over the future of the eurozone. With Greece possibly on the verge of being forced out, and the euro's fate once again hanging in the balance--along with the health of the American economy-- Obama and new French President Francois Hollande will seek to double-team German Chancellor Angela Merkel, pressuring her to repudiate her austerity policy. That topic won't be on the formal agenda, but the negotiations are likely to be almost as intense as the ones Jimmy Carter had with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat in 1978.
In addition, several of the G8 summiteers, the U.S., Germany, France and Italy, supply the core of the NATO effort in Afghanistan. So their discussions at Camp David may well be more important than anything that is decided at the May 20-21 NATO summit in Chicago.
Beyond that, with G20 debates on economic coordination too often dissolving into confusion in recent years -- and an image of weak U.S. leadership -- the Obama administration may seek to use the Camp David meeting as a chance to reassert the usefulness of the G8, and with it, the prestige of America's place in it as first among equals. The G8 meetings (then it was a group of six) began, after all, nearly forty years ago as an informal meeting in the White House library, so in some respects this year's event is a return home.
While the meetings were once considered important, in recent decades they have disintegrated into photo ops capped by meaningless declarations covering everything but the fate of the leaders' kitchen sinks. We'll likely get one of those this time as well. But don't be fooled: There's big stuff happening at Camp David this weekend, policy-wise. And the Obama campaign will try to make the most of it, politics wise.