July 25, 2008


Playing Innocent Abroad (David Brooks, 7/25/08, NY Times)

Obama’s tone was serious. But he pulled out his “this is our moment” rhetoric and offered visions of a world transformed. 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.

When John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan went to Berlin, their rhetoric soared, but their optimism was grounded in the reality of politics, conflict and hard choices. Kennedy didn’t dream of the universal brotherhood of man. He drew lines that reflected hard realities: “There are some who say, in Europe and elsewhere, we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin.” Reagan didn’t call for a kumbaya moment. He cited tough policies that sparked harsh political disagreements -- the deployment of US missiles in response to the Soviet SS-20s -- but still worked.

In Berlin, Obama made exactly one point with which it was possible to disagree. In the best paragraph of the speech, Obama called on Germans to send more troops to Afghanistan.

The argument will probably fall on deaf ears. The vast majority of Germans oppose that policy.

We need not quarrel over whether Senator Obama is a pacifist when he reveals so much by his use of the passive voice--"a wall came down."

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 25, 2008 6:26 AM

It's a good thing Republicans have good breeding and manners. Otherwise, we'd be talking about David Brooks not in political terms, but in psychosexual terms.

"In the tank" for Obama was too polite a term to describe Mr. Brooks' behavior.

Posted by: Brad S at July 25, 2008 7:29 AM

The whole idea that cheering crowds of Germans would cause Americans to vote for Obama was weird. Has Obama ever met an American?

Posted by: Ibid at July 25, 2008 10:02 AM

I also like this: "And that's when the airlift began - when the largest and most unlikely rescue in history brought food and hope to the people of this city."

Apparently a bunch of planes (from where exactly?) just suddenly started flying towards Berlin on their own accord. I don't know who was flying them, or who ordered them to do so. Certainly Obama's minions don't know enough about history to know (or care), either.

Posted by: b at July 25, 2008 11:35 AM
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