John Cullinan gets right to the heart of Obama’s speech in Germany yesterday:
Wagnerâ€™s music is actually better than it sounds, Mark Twain liked to joke. The same canâ€™t be said for Sen. Barack Obamaâ€™s campaign speech Thursday in Berlin.
Obamaâ€™s speech fell flat. It amounts to an unforced error, perhaps prompted by the need to score another historic â€œfirst,â€ like Obamaâ€™s embarrassing claim at the outset that â€œI know that I donâ€™t look like the Americans whoâ€™ve previously spoken in this great city.â€
As Victor Davis Hanson points out nearby, two distinguished blacks have served as secretary of State, representing the U.S. at the highest diplomatic level in Europe and around the world for the past seven years. But Obama seldom lets facts get in the way of self-congratulation.
As always, thereâ€™s no lack of self-regard: â€œNow the world will watch and remember what we do here â€” what we do with this moment.â€ But thereâ€™s a complete absence of irony in a phrase that unconsciously recalls Lincolnâ€™s modest prediction that â€œthe world will little note or long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what theyâ€ â€” the honored dead â€” â€œdid here.â€
Obamaâ€™s speech itself is an unusually restrained and cautious piece of work, crafted for delivery in Berlin and for its impact Stateside. Its aim was to skirt the Scylla of unabashed Europhilia (a la John Kerry) and the Charybdis of American exceptionalism (the Founding Fathers). The result is an intellectual shipwreck.
After the speech I had a long phone conversation with a friend about Obama. We went to the worst case scenario of what an Obama presidency would mean, and it didn’t stop at bad policies as a multiplier of bad results. It will take a while for me to sift through that discussion and present it coherently, but it starts with the premise of why Obama’s past does not warrant giving him any benefit of the doubt, at all. It’s a very serious matter, where this man has placed his loyalties prior to running for president. That the media has chosen to allow that past to be hidden in plain sight raises questions that no one appears willing to address.
Meanwhile, more from Cullinan:
In any case, the speechâ€™s metaphorical walls ultimately collapse under the weight of all the mix-and-match platitudes (see Jim Geraghtyâ€™s quiz) and historical inaccuracies or misjudgments. The latter are more troubling than the former, as their presence suggests that how a phrase reads matters more than whether it makes sense or itâ€™s true. Consider this: â€œNot only have the walls come down in Berlin, but they have come down in Belfast, where Protestant and Catholic have found a way to live together.â€ Thatâ€™s just plain wrong: There are now more â€œpeace wallsâ€ in Belfast than at the time of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, while residential segregation has increased.
I wonder if Cullinan is aware of how miraculously the news media has downsized its comprehension to accomodate Obama’s rock star nonsense. They were out yesterday afternoon and evening and still this morning talking about this speech as a history-making event. Their innate sense that it was really a dog, however, showed up with their attempt to point out that John McCain had been reduced to being interviewed in the “cheese aisle” of a supermarket while Obama was busy declaring himself king of the world. But even on the basis of that contrast, I should add, the speech was awful, and McCain looked good simply because he wasn’t the one giving it.