I have just watched Obama’s Berlin speech. As so often with him, it was the spectacle that counted. A beautiful summer’s evening, a cheering multi-racial crowd (I didn’t know there were so many blacks in Germany), the charismatic young senator.
What Obama actually had to say was pretty much beside the point. But I thought the speech itself was competent. The only bit where it really took off was when he gave his “I love America” peroration at the end. To get a German crowd cheering an evocation of the American dream was an achievement – and it did link into his big theme, which appeared to be something to do with “our common humanity”. (As a Dalek, I was unmoved by this.)
Generally, the speech was artfully-designed to avoid giving offence either to American voters or to a German audience. Wisely, Obama obeyed the nostrum that “partisanship stops at the water’s edge” – so he did not bash Bush or McCain or pander hugely to German hostility to the Iraq war. When the crowd began to chant “Obama” in response to his promise to “bring this war to an end” – he did not milk the moment, and moved swiftly onwards. The only vaguely tough bit, was when he appealed for more German help in Afghanistan – a call that was met with tepid applause. Anyway, Angela Merkel appears to have ruled that out in advance.
But the amazing thing about Obama is the way in which he manages to make banalities sound profound. I sat with pen poised, ready to take down the most important bits. But I found myself scribbling phrases like – “We cannot afford to be divided”; “we must give our children back their future.”. My own children seemed unmoved by this piece of pandering to the under-tens – and kept trying to switch over to the Simpsons.
There has been a bit of hurt speculation in the British press about why Obama chose to make his big Euro-speech in Berlin – rather than Paris or London. That’s easy, I think. First, there is the deliberate evocation of Kennedy (and to a lesser extent, Reagan.) Second, I think a German audience is much more likely to respond to this sort of thing. The French are too sniffy about the Americans. And the British are too sceptical by nature. I just can’t see a British crowd turning up for a huge open-air speech by a politician – particularly a foreigner. People would just think it weird. They would take the piss.
No, if you want a mass rally, Germany is definitely the place.
Finally, in an earlier newspaper column I complained about the lack of a decent sex scandal in this US presidential election. Rather late in the day, the famously uxorious John Edwards appears to have obliged.