"Obama speeches almost always have the same narrative arc. Some problem threatens. The odds are against the forces of righteousness. But then people of good faith unite and walls come tumbling down. Obama used the word “walls” 16 times in the Berlin speech, and in 11 of those cases, he was talking about walls coming down.
The Berlin blockade was thwarted because people came together. Apartheid ended because people came together and walls tumbled. Winning the cold war was the same: “People of the world,” Obama declared, “look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together and history proved there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.”
When I first heard this sort of radically optimistic speech in Iowa, I have to confess my American soul was stirred. It seemed like the overture for a new yet quintessentially American campaign.
But now it is more than half a year on, and the post-partisanship of Iowa has given way to the post-nationalism of Berlin, and it turns out that the vague overture is the entire symphony. The golden rhetoric impresses less, the evasion of hard choices strikes one more." David Brooks
Ah, but is the overture really "the whole symphony" or is there something else which is not seen?
Brooks has put his finger on one of the issues that Americans have with the man.
Obama is clearly Europe’s man in the contest to become president of the United States next year, but the sale is not made to those who will elect the president. I think it is likely that Obama will be elected but the outcome is still in doubt.
Few Europeans understand the complexities of American politics or political culture. They think they do, but they do not. They tend to think that Americans are unsophisticated Europeans who would do better if they knew how. This view is largely self deception and based on a mistaken belief that the US is a cultural extension of Europe.
In fact, we are an alien race, far, far removed from ancestral roots. Most Americans are largely without ideology, without any sense of history that extends beyond the 4th of July and the date of their own birth, and without any interest in the outside world. Even the coastal zones are filled with people who have never been to any foreign country, do not have a passport and certainly do not speak any language other than the "English" of their region. Americans just do not care about worshipful crowds in any European city. A big crowd in Paris might actually hurt Obama’s chances.
The soaring rhetoric of such speeches and the appeals to the better angels of our natures move people who are already within the percentage of the population who favor the idea of Barack Obama. John Kennedy’s speeches moved many in 1960, but nothing like all. His false claims of a "missile gap" with the Soviets had as much to do with his election as his exhortation to become one of "freedom’s frontiersmen." His wife and children were appealing, but by ’63 he was thought by many Americans to be a remarkably ineffective president. At the same time, his picture was to be seen on the walls of shacks and mud huts around the world. Would he have been re-elected in 1964? This is an open question. Khrushchev thought him a posturing, empty suit. From that came much mischief. He forced the Soviet Army out of Cuba? Yes, but would they have been there if the Soviet leadership had not thought him weak and a dreamer?
There is something hollow about Obama’s candidacy, something that gives citizens a chance to think him less rather than more. He should be far, far ahead of McCain in the polls. The Republican Party is a wounded beast. McCain increasingly looks like a declining, mean old man. Obama should be at least ten points ahead in national polls. Yes. Yes. I know we don’t elect presidents on a national basis.
William Jennings Bryan was an orator at the soaring level of Barack Obama. His "cross of gold" speech still lives in legend, but he was never elected president. pl