Barack in Berlin–Values and a Vision for the Future


Posted originally on Blogcritics.org

There is much tongue clucking amongst the mainstream media gurus in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s speech in Berlin. Was it hubris?  Arrogance?  Too much from a United States senator, who is a presidential candidate, but not yet (or perhaps never) President of the United States?  I say no.

John McCain said when asked about Obama’s speech that he would rather give that sort of speech after he became president.  (Notwithstanding the fact that McCain recently spoke both  in South America and Canada). On the other hand, what a great demonstration to the American voting public, that may have forgotten in the last seven years, of what is possible when an American leader goes abroad and gives a speech.

One of John McCain’s main campaign themes argues that Barack Obama is a foreign policy lightweight.  He practically goaded Obama into this Middle East/European tour; and Obama has used this trip to demonstrate to the US electorate (and the world) that McCain is wrong.  How Obama plays on the world stage is very much a relevant question, and one that has now clearly been put to rest.

Today’s speech in Berlin did that and more.  You say that all he did was make a speech?  Where was the meat of his policy?  Where were the specifics?  Speeches that stir; that promote a vision; that evoke ideas and ideals are sometimes as important as the specifics that come from them much, much later. And in a reality where the US presidency has been shamed and embarrassed by an anti-intellectual, arrogant cowboy, it is refreshing to hear Obama speak to the world simply and passionately about the real ideals that fuel our country.

When was the last time we saw American flags waving amidst cheering throngs in Europe; in the “Old Europe,” the Europe that the Bush administration has derided as practically irrelevant?  Obama generated an excitement at the presence of an American leader (albeit not the President) because of the promise he holds and vision he has been articulating. And the promise that through his election the confidence in our country may be regained, within our own borders and across the seas.

What is it that America is selling?  What is it about our country that makes it the best place to live?  Often the last hope of the hopeless.  “Give me your tired your poor,” says the Statue of Liberty.  “Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  America is unique on our planet.  And it’s not because of our health care; not because of our economy; but because of our values and ideals.  Freedom.  Opportunity.

My grandparents called it “the goldene medina” (the golden land). “Regardless of race, creed or color.”  The blindness of our justice system.  These are our values; the things to which we aspire as Americans, and what gives citizens of other nations pause and the room to hope for something better.  The “better” that brought Obama’s father here from Kenya; that brought my grandparents here from Eastern Europe; that brought my next door neighbor here from Pakistan.

After September 11, the world stood with us.  A world united.  All the world “was a New Yorker.”  George Bush squandered that in the morass and mess of Iraq.  And today, for the first time in many years, the world sees a glimmer of where we might be, come January 2009. “The world is hungry for American leadership,” Obama told NBC newsman Brian Williams.  Leadership to face the challenges common to all “citizens of the world,” those that America, at its best, can provide: terrorism, global warming, nuclear threats, AIDS.    The list goes on.

Throngs of people cheering “USA! USA!”  Waving American Flags.  No protests, no effigies.  They see a United States where someone like Barack Obama is even possible—someone who is the embodiment of what is good and right about the United States.  And they see the hope that the walls between the US and Europe; between people of differing creeds, religions and cultures can come down, and that we can work together to make our imperfect world just a little bit better.

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