Thursday, July 24, 2008

Obama in Berlin

By Michael J.W. Stickings

There is no denying that Obama has already become an international statesman, celebrity, and inspiration. While McCain is holding town-hall meetings in small communities and generated little media or public attention, Obama is travelling the world, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Israel to Europe, meeting with world leaders and looking not just presidential but like the personification of all that is good about America.

Germany's Der Spiegel is reporting, based on police estimates, that "at least 200,000 people turned up to listen to Obama's speech" today at Berlin's Victory Column.

Let me repeat that: 200,000 people.

I will post video later today. (See this photo gallery already up at Der Spiegel. And this one at the BBC.)

Upon initial reflection, I agree with Michael Crowley: The speech was "unsurprising, but elegantly wrought and delivered, and the stagecraft was perfect." My only major concern is that Obama could come across as far too much of an internationalist for the American electorate, much of which is nationalist, isolationist, and, in terms of America's place in the world, arrogant and self-aggrandizing. Indeed, some critics will likely charge Obama with caring more about world opinion than about Main Street America. As Noam Scheiber puts it, "the combination of the visual and some of the rhetoric... was a little too post-nationalist for the typical American swing-voter. I'm not sure you win the presidency without being seen as an unambiguous nationalist." Although that might be overstating it a bit -- this isn't the year for unambiguous nationalism in American politics -- there is the very real possibility of some voters objecting to "the atmospherics," if not the actual content, of the speech.

For more on the speech, see The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and the BBC.

The transcript is here (and here, at Obama's website). Actually, upon reading it again, I find it much better than "unsurprising." It's only that way because we've heard so much of it before. It may be typical for Obama, but it's actually quite awesome. Here's the best part, from the end:

People of Berlin -- people of the world -- this is our moment. This is our time.

I know my country has not perfected itself. At times, we've struggled to keep the promise of liberty and equality for all of our people. We've made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions.

But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries, we have strived -- at great cost and great sacrifice -- to form a more perfect union; to seek, with other nations, a more hopeful world. Our allegiance has never been to any particular tribe or kingdom - indeed, every language is spoken in our country; every culture has left its imprint on ours; every point of view is expressed in our public squares. What has always united us -- what has always driven our people; what drew my father to America's shores -- is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please.

Those are the aspirations that joined the fates of all nations in this city. Those aspirations are bigger than anything that drives us apart. It is because of those aspirations that the airlift began. It is because of those aspirations that all free people -- everywhere -- became citizens of Berlin. It is in pursuit of those aspirations that a new generation -- our generation -- must make our mark on history.

People of Berlin -- and people of the world -- the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. Let us build on our common history, and seize our common destiny, and once again engage in that noble struggle to bring justice and peace to our world.

It isn't just America. The world, as I have often said, needs Barack Obama in the White House.

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