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July 24, 2012 |  3 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

Editorial Team

Reexamining Obama's Berlin Speech

Editorial Team: Four years ago today, the Democratic Party presidential candidate rocked Berlin. Over 200,000 people attended Barack Obama’s speech at the Victory Column. We take a look back at that moment, and what people said at the time. Where do we find ourselves today?

In our most watched video, Atlantic Community’s editor-in-chief Joerg Wolf and head of outreach Ben Heine interviewed attendees of the Obama speech in Berlin:


You can also find the video on Youtube (part 1, part 2). It was divided into two parts due to the time limit.

The video offers us a reexamination of people's expectations. Since 2008, much has changed. One of the original interviewees in our video, Casey Butterfield from Austin, Texas, weighed in now four years later:

In 2008 I said that I did not think Obama would be able to please everyone in office, and what has happened in the interim has certainly borne out that statement. I also mentioned a mass belief in that things could not get much worse than they were already, which turned out to be just two months before Lehman Brothers was allowed to collapse and the dominoes of the global financial crisis began to fall.

Now the only way out of the aftermath of this crisis seems to be to suffer through, and some countries are having to suffer much more than others. I wish there were an opportunity for another address of this sort today: a speech that we could all project our optimism onto, an event that would bring people together in the name of hope. We could use it!

In general, the Germans in attendance did not support Obama's candidacy because he promised change, the main narrative in the US, but rather because he was expected to return the United States to the familiar pre-Bush trajectory. As stated in our original article at the time:

Obama's popularity in Germany is not based on him being the anti-Bush, but on his ability to reaffirm belief in ideals cheapened through the hypocrisy of the Bush administration. Germans favor Obama, not because he will set American foreign policy on a different course, but because they expect him to return it to its traditional path—a constellation they are comfortable with.

This more realistic picture of Obama is reflected in what Ben Heine and interviewee Christopher Paun from Berlin have to say now. Looking back at the speech and the past four years, Ben commented:

It was clear to me, that realistically Obama wouldn't be able to meet all the expectations that people had of him, so there were no big surprises. 

Interviewing the people who came out to listen to Obama speak, you could really feel a sense of excitement, and it seemed as if people were projecting their own personal hopes and wishes onto Obama. I think the atmosphere would be much less euphoric if Obama came to Berlin now.

I still believe the transatlantic partnership is the most important element in US foreign policy, however Europe is becoming less important for America – not so much because of a realignment of US policy but more due to Europe's lack of leadership.

Overall I think it's been a good presidency. I mostly agree with his foreign policy decisions, health care reform and legislation on social issues. Unfortunately for him, he has not been able to create greater incentives for job creation, and this is his major weakness going into the next election.

More critically, Christopher wrote:

When Barack Obama came to Berlin to give his speech in 2008, I decided to protest the fact that he changed his position on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In the primaries he promised to filibuster the FISA Amendments Act, but then he supported it. Looking back, I think it was only one of several examples where Barack Obama showed that he is willing to sacrifice liberty for security.

Now, as the first term of his presidency comes to an end, a closing of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp is not in sight, although Barack Obama promised to do exactly that even after he was elected. He also approved drone strikes killing German and American citizens, instead of bringing them to justice in a due process. All this is very disappointing for freedom-lovers, but I do not see how other potential presidents (e.g. John McCain or Mitt Romney) would pursue a more reasonable strategy against terrorism.

Although the risk for Americans of dying in a terrorist attack is much lower than dying in a car accident, the United States spends an unreasonable amount of resources on the fight against terrorism and is willing to sacrifice civil liberties in an unreasonable way. This was true about the anti-terrorism policy of George W. Bush and it still is true about the anti-terrorism policy of Barack Obama.

In light of these statements and the past four years, many questions come to mind: Do we find ourselves on better footing today? Did Obama return the United States to its traditional path and, by extension, to policies that Germans and others could be comfortable with? Or has he followed more in Bush's footsteps? Tell us what you think in the comments.

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Tags: | 2008 speech | Berlin | Obama |
 
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Unregistered User

July 25, 2012

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Reflection is always a good thing to do. At this level, and as "cross-sectional" as the gathered opinions seem, the result is just what to expect. 2008 in Germany meant a big score for then Presidential candidate (Obama). After having been generously elected President of the US thereafter, "this" 2012 video, one can say ties-up 2008 with 2012, so shown reflection sentiments contextually turn relatively highly "predictive" of the November election as he RUNS for the SECOND TERM.

For persistent followers of the news and how they account for issues of his politics during this first term in office, the 2008 reflection fits and allows much to be carried over. I think that is a good credit. Politics works in immeasurable ways, especially if it is democractic, but driven by the ability to engage people.....noting also why the masses understand, appreciate or repulse it as a function of party politics, political competition and above all political values and choices of priorities!

The refection is of-course, no proof of "perfect fit or consensus". That is normal enough in politics too. OBAMA might not and cannot please everyone. Whether we talk of civil liberty, freedom, equality, etc., it is true they are fundamental, but highly differentiated as normative categories------ones that homeostatic balance aims at but by the igenuity of the leadership. In America, "bipartisanship" could help advance homeostasis as a qualitative equilibrium of high importance for "reducing and humbling" political values as 'normative' categories. Whether we use the frame to assess US foreign policy, the inherited economic downturn, employment problems, social problems and the health care bill, etc.,, or go any other political-value-way to do that, will remain a thing free to do, except what turns out as consequence for the masses. Like reflecters the masses know how to differentiate!

"openDemocracy" ran a lot of articles by eminent journalists. One of it was "Let Obama be Obama". Being so was never to forget "adaptation", "goal attainment", "integration" and "latency pattern maintainance". With these system and sub-systems concepts, the President has done much to match and meet the rough challenges. If he cannot please everybody, it is well easy to sympathize with and get on with the second term to finish the job and get the crown for his first well deserved Nobel Peace Prize. I remember my comment during his German visit and speech --- then the only one in oD, and also could well recall the ethusiaism when NATO received and welcome him in Germany. The German spring and the singing birds crowned the reception and guard of honour inspection. Surely Germany has never stopped to be in the heart of the President, now a candidate for 2nd term, 2012. Everything that begins well ends well!
 
Douglas - Eden

July 25, 2012

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Barack Obama has disappointed his 2008 left-wing supporters and appears to have wilfully dissembled with them. He has wasted the money that was available for stimulating and reviving the consumer economy, reducing unemployment and stimulating the Atlantic economy. He has provided no leadership for the Western world because he has never understood the wider picture. A high price has been paid for him to learn on the job - a price we can't afford. He has wrought so much damage that it is difficult to see how any successor can quickly turn around the disastrous direction he has taken the US and the Western world. Being a collectivist, he offers no answer to the state corporatist collectivism that is strangling Europe while he continues to frustrate expansion in the USA. Those who lauded him Berlin have been proven wrong, but their bankruptcy means they have no answers now. It is ironic that only the conservative Angela Merkel stands against the ultimate solution to the European crisis while Hollande, Berlusconi and other Europeans of collectivist socialist persuasion or corrupt selfish egotism continue to delude Europeans that there is an alternative to purging debt and introducing unpleasant self-discipline. So Europeans can neither look to Obama or their own politicians for constructive leadership at present, and it largely their own fault. Until this Gordian Knot is broken, the road to some salvation will remain blocked and the medium term outlook with remain grim on the road to disaster.
 
Unregistered User

July 26, 2012

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When all is said the way it is said by right of-course, the QUESTION before all of us is: WHICH WAY FORWARD? "Could "the Gordian Knot to be broken" be further explained in a language of political values, democracy, choices, priorities, historical lessons, complexities and no less dilemmas before us worldwide? Some wish we could learn. Others say no reason to learn, go-ahead! Learning means taking stock qualitatively and sustainably and as serious as the times we live in shows, "values" are the cards on the table for the question of "which way to go forward"? The right to criticize is ours, but "fail" not to take a long look at history and to admire what "political consensus or bipartisanship" can do to narrow the gaps of political values in a world where nothing will ever be a "perfect fit" until the rule from Heaven is here!
 

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