Friday, July 25, 2008


Yes, the obligatory Obama post.

Of course I went. I'd seen Clinton in...'94?...and couldn't remember a word he'd said and wanted to see if Obama could do better. Opting for comfort (a relative term in a situation like this) over being metal-detected and waiting in line to get into the main venue, we stopped at the first video screen we came to on 17 Juni, and that turned out to have been a great decision.

The trade-off, of course, was suffering through the pre-show "entertainment," a reggae-oid band and a standard-issue rock band which sounded like a fourth-generation xerox of U2. Although, I have to admit, finding rock bands in Europe with the credentials to get the kind of security clearance you'd have to have to play a gig like this couldn't have been easy. Asking them to be good would be too much, and not having them would have meant more of the DJ, who got extra points for tone-deafness for sticking on some remix of "Sympathy for the Devil" shortly before Obama hit the stage. (Actual last song before he spoke, though, was Bowie doing "Let's Dance," and I think I can now live without hearing that one ever again. Talk about dated...)

As for the speech itself, the New York Times summed it up nicely in their morning headline: Obama, Vague on Issues, Pleases Crowd in Europe. The thing I had to keep remembering as the blurry phrases piled up around the wall metaphor he'd set up at the start (the Wall and the Berlin Airlift were the two leitmotifs) was that this was a speech for Americans, not the Germans who'd taken off from work early on a nice Thursday afternoon to hear him.

It was good to hear him defend a military presence in Afghanistan, which is something a sizeable number of Germans, with their knee-jerk anti-war attitudes, don't want to hear, but he was right: this is a golden chance, already mostly-blown by the US, to restore a country devastated by war to a functioning, and peaceful, state. It was good to hear him denounce nuclear weapons, not just in Iran (where they don't have them) but around the world. And it was really good to hear him emphasize that the US and Europe have to listen to each other, and to reject unilateralism: that part of the speech was for the Europeans.

If the speech was, in the end, the proverbial Chinese food ("you're hungry an hour later"), it was still a good PR move by the man who will very likely take the reins of the US government next year. The weather was beautiful, and by delaying his speech til a little after 7, he was helped by a setting sun rich in red tones, which burnished his skin into a nicely metaphoric medley of colors.

I got what I needed -- a (bootleg, I think, since it was being sold by some people also selling t-shirts for a sauna company) button I can attach to myself discreetly in Ameriskeptic contexts (read: France) -- and we left right after the speech, while the video screen still showed him shaking hands with the crowd. As we headed up 17 Juni, the loneliest man in Berlin stood, a 60-something-year-old guy holding an umbrella, from which little McCain signs depended. Germans were mocking him loudly, and I almost felt sorry for him except for the fact that he was, in fact, advocating a continuation of the horror the US has lived through for the past eight years.

And yes, an hour later I was hungry.


Anonymous said...

In this morning's NY Times op-ed section, David Brooks reacts to the speech not entirely differently than you, Ed. He, too, noted the importance of the Afghanistan paragraph. But he also points out that when John Kennedy spoke in Berlin, and Reagan (ugh) too, they both let fly their rhetoric from the launching pad of hard political reality. The Wall didn't come down because people "came together," after all. Obama has been giving us the soaring rhetoric for more than a year, and Brooks, at least, comments that it's time for Obama to provide more of the hard stuff. I think he's right about that.

/Steve B

Ed Ward said...

Actually, the Wende (the "turning," which is what Germans call it, and which I greatly prefer to the "when the Wall came down" phrase) did, indeed, happen because "people came together." It's just that they were German people, and mostly in Leipzig.

Obama can't let loose with political reality overseas until he's elected. I mean, imagine he was a junior Senator from some other state, and not running for President.

Now, back in the States, that's a different matter entirely.

Anonymous said...

Ed, you should've spoken up when I visited back in may - I had a a bunch of O campaign buttons & stickers with me for distribution amongst friends

Ed Ward said...

Oh, now you tell me!

Karl-Marx-Straße said...

I almost felt sorry for him except for the fact that he was, in fact, advocating a continuation of the horror the US has lived through for the past eight years

But isn't that (roughly) what Obama was advocating anyway? I'm sorry to be all British (pre-Blair) here, but there aren't any serious differences between the Republicans and the Democrats, are there? One can take the "lesser evil" argument if you like, but I fail to see any reasons to *positively* support the Democrats. Of course, I have no experience of US politics, so feel free to teach me otherwise.

I think some leading CSU politician put it exactly right: when he said on the eve of Obama's visit that anyone expecting any real differences, should he win the Presidency, would be dissapointed. He'd still be the leader of the world's superpower, would still go to war, should he want to, without UN backing, etc. etc.

Ed Ward said...

KMS, you are, indeed, missing something. Something so nuanced that no non-American could hope to intuit it.

People who are expecting the Son of God or the New Che Guevara are going to be disappointed (and I'm embarrassed to say that there are at least vibes like that coming from some Obama supporters), but what you'll see immediately will be a backing off from some of the more horrible excesses of the Bush administration.

Yes, indeed, according to the laws as they've now been bent, he could go to war without UN backing, but it's extremely doubtful he would, and that's a crucial difference. Two of the quiet subtexts to the Berlin speech are that Obama's a listener and he's not a unilateralist. He's not driven by a mad Cheney-Addington desire to conquer the world, because he's smart enough to realize that, if nothing else, we don't have the troops to do it. He's also wise to talk about Afghanistan, where a real change might be brought about with the proper support, no matter what the head-in-the-sand Germans might think.

Anonymous said...

ed, i find my position lying somewhere in between yours and that of kms. having spent many years inside the beltway i can both appreciate the finer nuances of obama's rhetoric and also know that it has little to no relation to what may happen in the course of an administration. that being said, change is incremental and even the smallest movement away from the unspeakable horrors of the past eight years can make a big difference twenty or thirty years down the road - which is about how long i give human civilization anyway.

i was also happy to see that you also noted the use of 'sympathy for the devil' since my friends couldn't believe it when i mentioned it. i don't think it was any sort of goof on the part of the dj, but part of obama's pre-appearance ritual since, as all true christians know, he is actually the antichrist and his appearance ushers in the latter days...

Ed Ward said...

I'll settle for incremental change, since the other kind precipitates a kind of chaos I doubt most pampered Americans are ready for.

Or the Rapture, one.

Karl-Marx-Straße said...

a backing off from some of the more horrible excesses of the Bush administration

Surely there are a fair number of Republicans (in Congress as well) who are in favour of 'backing off from some of the more horrible excesses', and maybe always were?

When the differences between both main parties' (candidates) are just 'nuances', the election must consequentely be a farce, or something like it.

No wonder so few people bother to vote. What's the average turn-out of registered voters (and again, of total population) again?

Anonymous said...

over the past 20 years the turnout for presidential elections has ranged between 55% and 65% of total "Voting Age Population"...

the turn out as a percentage of "Registered Voters" runs, on avaergae about 6% above the rate fr Voting Age.

Anonymous said...

The thing with democrats is, as Madeleine Allbright once put it (sorry, can't quote chapter & verse; tried to find the source but couldn't), they keep the nasty stuff in their backpack and aren't so up-yer-nose about it as the rethugs but it's still there and apart from that there isn't a whole lot of difference: they are no less imperialists than Cheney & Co., they just think they would do / did a better job of managing the empire.

Now, politics may be to a great extent a question of style but I doubt nuances of style are going to cut it considering the dire situation of the US: bankrupt, de-industrialized, on the brink of becoming a totalitarian state and detested by most of the planet. That's one deep hole to climb out of and that's assuming they even want to.

The bottom line is that those who will abstain from voting in the fall have my sympathy. Me, I'm rooting for McCain: he's so terrible he'll bring forth the demise of the empire by a whole decade at least, which is just what the situation is calling for. Dragging it out isn't going to do anyone any favours.

Ed Ward said...

Oh, great. I lived through the "Nixon will hasten the Revolution" thing once. You're willing to risk a nuclear attack on Iran just to get rid of America? Puh-leeze.

Anonymous said...

There's more to "America" than its current sorry incarnation; I'm not America hater. You're right a McCain presidency might not pan out as expected: it's a gamble, but so is trying homeopathy, all in "nuances", on a collapsing patient.

As to risking nuclear war, Israel is pretty much out of control anyway and will do it if it thinks it has to, Obama or no Obama, who I note has been pledging right and left the most absolute devotion to Israel's interests. If there's one thing republicans and democrats have in common it is AIPAC!

Anonymous said...

The "hasten the revolution" meme isn't confined to the Nixon era (I seem to recall the same argument with regard to reagan & it was oft cited by leftie acquaintances as an ex post facto defense of voting nader in 2000)Unfortunately it's an aspect of this race as well.

Just one consideration among many -while it may be a nuance to some mccain's anti-choice position sure doesn't sit well with my 76 yr old pro-choice mom.