Freitag, 25. Juli 2008

Obama (and me) in Berlin ...

The last time this many people had this much fun on the Strasse des 17. Juni was during the World Cup Final, I think. Yes, Obama got a popstar welcome. Yes, loads of people who came could utter the word "change" - and said that's what he stood for - but, really, had no clue about Obama's policies. They would have come to watch Madonna as well. Still, Obama was impressive. He was forced to speak at the Siegessaeule, not the Brandenburg Gate. And he even made that symbol count for his message of unity. "Here, at the base of a column built to mark victory in war, we meet in the center of a Europe at peace.", he said. And it is a good line. There was much in his speech, that I did disagree with, for sure. His praise for an outdated NATO as "the greatest alliance ever formed to defend our common security" made me shudder. His take on history that sees the spread of freedom going hand in hand with open markets is not my view of the world, but rather that of his Chicago Boys. His balancing words of comfort for labor and the environment were comparatively vague: "Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet." Sure. When he spoke of the war in Afghanistan and the need for Germany to help, the crowd was silent - some booed. I am not opposed to Germany's involvement in Afghanistan in principle. But that Obama spent so much time on the need for excerting force in the world, well, it sounded like old-fashioned American foreign policy to me. The US will exert force. But it will do so a bit more multilaterally. It sounds like Kissinger and Clinton, not like a new dawn. - All that said - it was still a powerful speech. And - for a US presidential candidate, in any case - it was progressive. Obama should really get a prize for the most even-handed - and beautifully worded - 'China-bashing' ever when it comes to the issue of climate change: "As we speak, cars in Boston and factories in Beijing are melting the ice caps in the Arctic, shrinking coastlines in the Atlantic, and bringing drought to farms from Kansas to Kenya.". That's powerful stuff. By mentioning Detroit he very cleverly suggests that China and the US are equally to blame for climate change - and yet he makes that claim look even-handed. Reality, of course, is different. It is the US, more than any country that needs to act - as no country on this planet has put more emissions in the atmosphere than the US of A. His commitment: "Let us resolve that all nations - including my own - will act with the same seriousness of purpose as has your nation, and reduce the carbon we send into our atmosphere." is a significant step. If taken literally, it commits America to reduce its emissions by 40% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels - as Germany has pledged to do .... Well, good! - Obama was at his most powerful when he stood up against discrimination and for common humanity. On a street that the Nazi's had used for their shameful propaganda, it did send a shudder down my spine to hear him say: "Will we give meaning to the words "never again" in Darfur?". The words: "The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down." are truly evocative - and couldn't be less like Bush. And his call for a nuclear weapon free world - which has not got much mention in the media coverage I have seen - was heartening. "This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons." Indeed! - So, all in all, this was a speech of promise. This was a speech signifying "change" - even if most people who listened could not spell out what that means .... You missed the speech? Watch it here:

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