Tag Archives: Barack

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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Gotcha Politics and Sound-Bite Journalism

“Gotcha” politics has got to go.  And I think that time is here and now.  I want to thank George Stephanopoulos (who has, in my humble opinion, lost all credibility as an intelligent political voice), Charlie Gibson (who never really had it) and ABC for making it possible. 

Finally, we are having a debate about debate; about political discourse and about the media’s coverage of politics via soundbite, innuendo and a series of “gotchas.”  Last night was, perhaps, the tipping point; the straw that broke the camel’s back.  A ninety minute debate and for the first 45 minutes, not one bit of policy was discussed.  Not one merest suggestion of an issue was raised. 

Call me an elitist, but to question Barack Obama as to whether he “believes in the flag,” (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean) would be insulting, if it weren’t so ridiculous.  That Obama chose to actually answer showed him to be a man a lot more tolerant than I would have been.  (Beside the fact that I’m not a man.) 

This country is in an endless and fruitless war.  This country is in a recession; threatening to veer into the sort of stagflation I remember when I was just getting out of college in the late seventies.  Global warming is breaking off big chunks of ice fields (and George Bush’s plan is to begin to cut emissions in 12-15 years-that is, after they’re allowed to peak in 10 years.)  Our cities’ infrastructures are crumbling and our military is stretched too thin; Iran continues its nuclear program and in Afghanistan, the Taliban grow more powerful (hey, I thought we won that war) with each passing week.  And the media want to talk about David Ayers, a 60s radical.  Hey, Congressman Bobby Rush was a 60s radical too.  And former Tom Hayden.  Even Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (he, the son of Richard J– who helped all hell break loose in 1968 at the democratic convention) thinks its ridiculous to bring up William Ayers, who is a professor at the University of Illinois.

But yesterday, Obama countered.  He called this for what it is; and for what it is not.  The time has come, he said to talk about substance.  The post-debate coverage has been less about who said what, or who did what, than the substance of the questions themselves.  And I say it’s about damn time.  Criticism of Stephanopoulos, Gibson by people like Tom Shales, <i>Editor and Publisher </i> and others in the media and public life have dominated the discussion.

Last night Obama made a surprise appearance on the <i>The Colbert Report,</i> placing the word “distractions” on Colbert’s “on notice” board.  Distractions like the trivial questions coming from the real issues, when the issues are as serious as they are in this election, are not useful and are examples of lazy journalism. I’m not saying ONLY policy issues should be discussed; and character is an important thing to examine.  But when “journalists” insist on spending 75 percent of their coverage on distractions, and not at taking a hard look at the differences between the candidates (including the differences between the two democrats and John McCain) they are doing us all a disservice. 

So, maybe, finally, in the aftermath of the ABC debate, the main stream media are put on notice to discuss issues; real substance.  Not whether a candidate “believes” in the flag.  The stakes are too high to do otherwise.