First I got this email from a young friend: "LOVED IT - Just brilliant and I am happy to vote again." Then I watched The Speech again early this morning on C-SPAN and marveled at the reaction of 200,000 Berliners in a city that has been, in recent years, a tough room for American leaders. We've spenta lot of time in Berlin, so I know the city; in my parents' lifetime it was the capital of the most racist country in the world but now it's urbane, cerebral and pretty sophisticated, with a stunning history and a development we've watched throughout the last ten years that is unparalleled. War(and communist)-ruined buildings and just plain ugly ones have finally been replaced by gleaming new market and skyscraper squares, there's fabulous mass transit as well as renewed activity in its two opera houses and many theaters and ballet companies. OH and enough museums to keep you busy for months. Just the kind of place to be particularly hostile to a president like George Bush.
So what did Senator Obama bring that made the difference? David Brooks was pretty harsh in the NYTimes: " Obama has benefited from a week of good images. But substantively, optimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney." To be fair, I guess it can sound that way. The reality, to me though, is that after eight years of a president of whom we could not be proud and whose policies, war, rhetoric and attitude shoved our allies far from our side, a bit of warmth and solidarity is a legitimate introduction. Beyond that, the most profound thing about the speech, in my view, wasn't Obama but the response to him. Sure, Europe is liberal and politically correct (except, often, about their own immigrants, unfortunately) and a black candidate (even half) for president in the US is attractive, but it's more than that. It looked, at least to me, like Europeans have been longing for a United States they can believe in again; that perhaps part of the reason Europeans have been so angry at us is that beneath the rubble of the Bush years, we still represent a promise and ideal that Europe has been furious that we've abandoned.
Of course, I could be projecting my own heartbreak over Abu Ghraib and the Patriot Act and all the other profanities done in our name; at the horrific lack of inspired leadership both at home and abroad just after 9/11, at the war (How could it happen again - after Vietnam; the same lessons never learned, the same hubris?), at the craven attitude toward energy and life at the bottom end of our economic ladder - at all of it. But I don't think so. Rather, it seems that under all the anger Europeans have manifested toward the United States, they, like us, want an American leader they can believe in. An America they can believe in. And Barack Obama is about as close to that is you can get without moving to another dimension.
The foundation laid by that inspiration will get us, and our old friends newly re-engaged, through the terrible, tough days ahead. Without a leadership of hope and belief, natural allies outside our borders will be lost to us, as they so sadly have been these past years. And as Senator Obama reminded us, we can't afford that. Not now.