The Speech: From Berlin to Denver

He came out to the podium, he gazed out upon the 80,000 upturned faces aglow – and then last night Senator Barack Obama laid out his vision for his presidential campaign and for the presidency presumably to follow.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying here to push any Republican-inspired “Messiah” or “Moses-parting-the-seas” irony to cast last evening’s events in a disparaging light. Indeed, it was an impressive spectacle – complete with letter-perfect weather! – that itself rightly dominated the news-cycle and to which reactions still dominate that news-cycle this morning.

The same is not quite true in Europe, which has plenty else to talk about today, but Barack Obama’s speech has still gotten plenty of attention even now (i.e. as your EuroSavant writes this), less than 12 hours after it was delivered. Let’s again start with reactions from those who were vouchsafed their own up-close look at the Senator’s speechifying, last July in Berlin, namely the Germans.

First to Sabine Muscat, Financial Times Deutschland (Obama – on firm ground):

It was a place for great words, but this time they stayed away. For it was more important for Obama this evening to hit the right tone. But he thereby lost his own style. . . . His speech had to fulfill many demands. It had to be personal, for many voters still maintained that they didn’t know him. It had to be specific, so that it could finally become clear that Obama stood for a program and not just pretty words. It had to attack his Republican opponent John McCain, in order to show that it was not only Republicans who could hit hard. A bit more of the down-to-earth would also be good, for sometimes Obama seemed scholarly and arrogant. Unifying the Party was a further necessity, to seal the peace after the hard primary campaign against Hillary Clinton. . . . [Nonetheless] Obama delivered a completely normal political speech. Even in front of the Greek columns, the bold vision that usually his is identifying characteristic went missing. There were many very good phrases in this speech, yet none of them really had the sort of impact that would propel then into the history books. . . . his politically wise and artfully delivered, if not very innovative, speech . . . showed how quickly an Outsider on the way to the White House has to adjust his individual style to the mainstream.

From the Neue Presse (of Hannover: Obama’s Night: Gripping election speech – but without exuberance):

It was a Hercules-size assignment that Obama was taking on: he had to enthuse and inspire, living up to his reputation of being as charismatic as John F. Kennedy once was. But he wanted to avoid gestures and phrases that would make it easy for the Republicans to defame him as a hollow pop-star or even as a presumptuous prophet. Obama was supposed to describe aptly the promised “change” for a “new America” but at the same time not be too vague, and to take on the economic fears of the middle-class, to reassure them. He wanted to attach himself to Martin Luther King’s dream, but he didn’t want to make himself into the black people’s candidate, but rather a politician of a unified, reconciled America that had finally overcome at least politically the racial divide. Obame showed himself equal to this gigantic task. . . . In Denver stood what was already a Barack Obama with his feet firmly planted on the ground, who deliberately forswore emotion on the stage defiantly decorated with Greek columns.

From Die Zeit (Obama’s Coronation Mass):

Barack Obama in his speech showed America the way into the 21st century. He raked his competitor John McCain and the Bush Era over the coals. Whether patriotism, arms control, or the duties of a commander-in-chief, he left no sensitive subject unmentioned. He painted the bigger picture and at the same time remained concrete. Obama spoke of the necessary painful realizations and of the duty of moral and political renewal. “America,” he called out,” we cannot turn back. Not in front of the many tasks that lay before us.” And under the ear-splitting jubilation of his 80,000 supporters he declared: It’s time that the Republicans admit their mistakes and that the Democrats carry out the necessary turn-around. “Eight years are enough” became the battle-cry that will ring into the following weeks.

From Christian Wernicke, correspondent in Denver for the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Obama speaks plainly):

Another great speech, naturally. That the Democratic presidential candidate is a master wordsmith is something that America has almost gotten used to. Especially at such an occasion as this – his acceptance “with humility” of the nomination before more than 80,000 supporters in Denver’s football stadium. And yet his verbal fireworks offered three surprises: Seldom has the Senator from Chicago spoken so sentimentally (about himself), so concretely (about his program), and so aggressively (about his opponent John McCain). . . . Obama called McCain out, politically and very personally. At the latest on Monday the opponent will fire back. Then the Republican convention begins.

And now to France: From Patrick Sabatier, special correspondent in Denver for Le Point (Barack Obama and the “promise of America”):

Obama’s speech did not reach the heights of lyricism of that of Dr. King, nor the force of that of Roosevelt or the vision of Kennedy, but the candidate nonetheless once more gave a demonstration of his very great eloquence. He presented a pitiless indictment of the bankruptcy of the Bush presidency, which he claimed had put in peril “the promise of America.” He mounted a frontal attack on the dogmatic ideology of the conservatives, whose “ownership society” (Bush’s slogan) has been revealed as “a society of every man for himself, and you’re on your own.” “Tonight, I tell Americans: enough!” Obama proclaimed, and was echoed by the crowd. Above all, he launched a bitter attack against John McCain, mocking him on the economy and social security. (“It’s not that he doesn’t care. It’s that he just doesn’t get it.”), as well as on the subject of national security. . . . He occupied himself above all, as had Al Gore before him, with depicting the Republican candidate as a simple continuation of the Bush policies.

From Sylvain Cypel, writing for Le Monde (Barack Obama promises the renewal of America):

In a speech marked by his hymn to the “American promise,” to the “American soul,” to his desire to reconcile Americans with each other, the Democratic candidate nonetheless dedicated a part of his appearance to defining his socio-economic priorities. Two axes predominated: the intervention of the State to relaunch the economic machinery and the re-establishment of the purchasing-power of wage-earners. . . . But did this speech remove the doubt about his personality? . . . The assignment will in any case be arduous. In the first place, his virtuosity does him a disservice: deep America does not hold “pretty talkers” in very high esteem. And who can believe, as the Democratic convention tried to paint him, that he is only “an American like all the others”? In the eyes of most he can only be outside the norm, by his origins, his career, his unexpected rhetoric. And in any case, as “the first black candidate in American history” his “exceptionality” is set. “Obama is so far from us. McCain does not formulate more practical proposals, but the average American can more easily identify with him,” said Jim LeMaster, a delegate [presumably Democratic!] from Nebraska. . . . Above all, the unanimous reactions [to last night’s speech] were that, with a tone less lyric but with an unaccustomed firmness, he had shown that he will be for John McCain an entirely tougher adversary than John Kerry was four years ago for George Bush.

Oh, and if you’d like to see Obama’s speech translated into French, in its entirety, just go here: Verbatim: “We fall and rise again as a single nation. You can also peruse a minute-by-minute recounting of the events of last night at Invesco Field (i.e. pretty much live-blogging – and in French of course, since this is also from Le Monde) here.

Bleaches Whiter-Than-White?

Moving to Denmark, the daily Politiken takes a unique viewpoint on Obama’s speech (Obama woos the white middle-class), or at least adopts that viewpoint from its interviewees. The article begins by noting that the name “Martin Luther King” was itself not pronounced once during the speech. This is consistent with the thesis propounded by two “experts” (Danish academics with a specialty in US affairs) that an important function of Obama’s speech last night was downplaying his Afro-American aspect, in favor of trying his best to address and ingratiate himself with the white middle- and working-classes – the latter of which, in particular, he often seemed to have difficulties connecting with during the primaries. He succeeded, they both say – and managed to add some attacking licks on John McCain to boot.

Oh, and what a shame! Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende reports here (Grandma slept while Obama spoke) how Obama’s grandmother – on his father’s side – did not get to share in his Democratic presidential nomination triumph. She could not follow along with his great speech on TV, in the first place because the village where she still lives in Kenya does not have electricity. (And in the second place because it took place very early the next morning, Kenyan time.) Still, she’s quite confident that he’ll eventually make it all the way to the White House as President.

American Politics Too Emotional

Finally, a couple of what you could call “accessory” articles. In the first one, Der Spiegel writer Severin Weiland interviews CDU politician Peter Hintze, a close political colleague to Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel who attended the Democratic National Convention, in an article entitled “In Germany one is allowed to be more dispassionate.” Yes, the festivities and general hullabaloo at Denver’s Pepsi Center, and then at Invesco Field, is what really made an impression on Herr Hintze. Although it created truly moving moments – for Hintze it was the appearance of the dying Edward Kennedy – he is sure that this sort of emotionalism will never come to German politics: Germans are suspicious of it, out of bitter historical experience, and also from a desire to leave even top politicians at least a little bit of privacy. It follows, then, that politicians’ wives will surely never have the prominence they have in American politics. Interestingly, according to Herr Hintze neither will the Internet – that is necessary as a political tool in the US because the country is so big, whereas attempts to use it for German politics have so far failed.

And then another article from Der Spiegel, this from the magazine’s correspondent in Denver, Marc Pitzke, about Republican attempts to interfere in the Democratic National Convention (Republicans send saboteurs to the big Obama shindig). The lede: “A cease-fire during the party-conventions – that is almost an unwritten rule in the USA. Nonetheless the Republicans did not want to leave the big stage to Barack Obama alone; their trouble-makers showed up even in the Democrats’ convention-hall.” And he goes on to describe the impressionable 20-somethings sent by the Republican Party to Denver to make various mischief. It’s not as if they are in camouflage: they do wear their McCain t-shirts, yet not only manage to find their way into the Pepsi Center but also attract a healthy amount of attention from the press. There is simply too much press there at the Democratic Convention, you see, and too little authentic “Democratic news” available to fill their needs. Apart from this, there is also the Republican “Command Center” set up near the convention site. (This is apparently the installation which also served as the site of the “Happy Hour for Hillary” that I covered here previously.) There you can find Republican luminaries like Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani – when the latter is not strolling into the Pepsi Center as well to greet his many “friends” in there – spouting anti-Obama talking-points.

But that’s OK: as Pitzke notes, the Republican convention follows next week – and the Democrats have already rented office space in Minneapolis. At this point let me go to my dictionary to remind myself the German for “good for goose” and “good for gander.”

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