Obama in Berlin

I thought his speech was disappointing. He played it very safe. What he said was insubstantial even by his standards, and sometimes painfully banal. And it seemed to me to lack the flair in delivery that usually makes up the deficit. There were no memorable lines. All that stuff about tearing down (metaphorical) walls was predictable and lame. It was a mistake to evoke memories of "Tear down this wall," an unrepeatably dramatic stroke. And who thought it was a good idea to recycle "This is the moment"? Old hat by now in the US and entirely without resonance in Germany. He seemed subdued and a little nervous, too, which would be understandable, since it is difficult to please two such different audiences--the one in Berlin, and the one back home--at the same time.

Speaking at home, a favorite device is to challenge his listeners a little (as recently, when he reminded a teachers' union that he supports merit pay and charter schools). There was a smidgen of that in Berlin--he called on Europe to increase its support for US efforts in Afghanistan--but no more, most likely because he did not know the audience well enough to be confident about getting the balance right.

For what it's worth, Der Spiegel was none too impressed.

The images of the cheering crowd--200,000 was a decent turn-out, I'd say--are a great plus of course. And he avoided the main mistake he might have made, so far as American voters are concerned: there was no pandering to anti-American sentiment, and almost none to anti-Bush sentiment. At one point, the reference to Iraq, the crowd was about to get behind that feeling and he stifled it. This denied him the roars of adulation which were there for the taking, but which would have dealt him a serious and possibly lethal blow back home. So it was steady, but dull.

How long, one wonders, will Germany stay in love with Obama if he is elected? My guess is not long. The real question, once America's and Europe's diverging interests start to be asserted, is whether his Euro-fans will feel mildly let down or outrageously betrayed. See this piece by David Aaronovitch, "Eventually, we will all hate Obama too".

So Barack Obama, en fête around the world, will one day learn that there is no magical cure for the envy of others. What makes America the indispensable power (and even more indispensable in the era of the new China), is precisely what makes anti-Americanism inevitable.

Unfortunately, I think Aaronovitch is right.

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Business

Just In