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Jewish World Review
July 28, 2008
/ 25 Tamuz 5768
When snake oil was in season
Barack Obama finally played the Palace, or at least the Tiergarten, and he left a lot of promises in his wake. He'll get Christians, Muslims and Jews to hit the sawdust trail together, to repent their sins and suspicions and remake the world. He'll tear down walls between nations, between races, tribes and immigrants; between East and West, between the haves and the have-nots.
And with his spare change he'll buy the world a Coke.
He drew the loudest applause when he promised to bring the Americans home from the war in Iraq, and when he said "my country has not perfected itself." The Berliners really liked that one.
After trying to appear presidential on his Magical Mystery Tour of the Middle East - even the besotted reporters in his entourage reminded him that he's not the president yet - the senator indulged delusions of grandeur at the Victory spire. Now that he has imbibed the elixir of kings and caliphs just being president is not enough. "People of Berlin, people of the world," he said, "this is our moment." He offered himself "not as a candidate for president, but as a citizen ... a fellow citizen of the world." He wants to be president of everybody.
He stopped for a moment to reassure the embittered G-d-and-guns folks in Peoria that he hasn't necessarily forgotten them: "I also know how much I love America." But citizenship in America is fabulous fortune enough for most Americans. A president happy and satisfied just to be a citizen of the U.S.A. is a sufficient plenty. When you've supped on mystery meat in Paree you get big ideas. "With an eye towards the future, with resolve in our heart*, let us remember history," he said, "and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again." This, without the violins, sounds a lot like what George W. Bush is trying to do in the Middle East, beginning with the introduction of democracy in Iraq. The multitude in Berlin was too intoxicated by the taste of snake oil to notice.
This was the first time an American candidate for president had ever held a campaign rally abroad, going to a lot of trouble to speak to the mere 13,000 or so Americans who live there, including wives, husbands, sons, daughters and even little twins who can't or don't vote. But the American idol didn't go to Berlin to speak to Berliners, but to acquire the perception of stature and gravitas of the president he might never be. Everyone expected a million Berliners to show up at the Tiergarten, the park at the Victory spire, but the Berlin cops estimated the crowd at only a tenth of that. Still, it was about the size of the 120,000 who heard John F. Kennedy assert that "Ich bin ein Berliner." Only 20,000 heard Ronand Reagan tell Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." It's not yet clear what the signature line in Mr. Obama's 27-minute speech may be. The Europeans will fondly remember "I know my country has not perfected itself." The senator no doubt wants the world to remember, "this is the moment we have been waiting for."
If he didn't say anything memorable, Mr. Obama made no memorable blunders. The man who famously referred to "the 57 states" or regretted the "10,000 deaths" in a Kansas tornado (12 actually died) or the "100 million dead" in a storm in Burma (population 42 million), got through his speech with neither stumble nor verbal stagger. John F. Kennedy scribbled his memorable line on a three-by-seven index card as he waited to be introduced, and Ronald Reagan challenged the Soviets to tear down the Wall against the advice of nervous aides. But nobody reads a TelePrompter with greater skill, and yesterday Barack Obama preached his hyper if not necessarily holy eloquence to an adoring glassy-eyed choir.
For all the flowery pandering to his "fellow citizens of the world," eager to grow feet big enough to stand in American shoes, the speech in Berlin was an experiment in domestic campaigning abroad. How would it help him with actual American voters? Would it make him presidential in their eyes? Could they actually see him as the commander in chief?
By inviting comparison to Ronald Reagan and JFK, he invited close inspection. Kennedy's use of "Berliner," local slang for a jelly doughnut, risked ridicule, but he made it work. Barack Obama was wise not to make his speech in Hamburg, where he might have been ridiculed as a nothingburger. Worse, in Frankfurt, he would have revealed himself as an ambitious hot dog.
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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.
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