Friday, July 25, 2008
Berlin's been the scene of memorable oratory by many of the world's finest speakers. JFK proudly announced that he was a doughnut in this fair city; and undoubtedly sampled a few tasty German tarts of his own before jetting off into the sunset. Ronald Reagan bellowed, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" to the throaty applause of hundreds of thousands of Germans who were undoubtedly sick of the noisome graffiti smeared on the unsightly concrete by the hippies who were leaching off the fat dole checks handed out by the Bundestate and yearning for a rebirth of the kitschy pastoral scenes that were so popular before the world was plunged into fire and destruction in two world wars and a nuclear showdown. Then there was that guy with the mustache. I forget his name. He had big plans to redecorate the city. One of his projects was the Victory Monument that Obama gave his speech at celebrating victories that never quite came off, a warning about the limits of oratory. Little else survives of this mesmerizing speechmaker's legacy; his redecorating scheme came to an abrupt halt right at the end of the demolition phase of the project. But it left Berliners (the people, not the doughnuts. There was a proposal to rename the city Krispen Kremenstad but anti-capitalist radicals rioted in the streets and put a stop to the notion) with a hankering for tub-thumping oratory.
It seemed they were going to get their wish yesterday. The giant noise of the Obama campaign was coming to town. True, his previous attempts at Gravitas in the Middle East had fallen a bit flat and the Hossanah chorus in the media had come across as overdone and phony but this was it. The Babe was going to go to the plate and whack the ball out of the park! He had a more than friendly crowd; atheists who so reviled and hated Bush that they nightly found themselves on their knees beseeching God to free the world from this eight-year Bushy plague. He was the political equivalent of Michael Jackson; a superstar, black but not too black, with a show that would make the hairs on your arms stand up straight! Women have been known to faint during his speeches. The air crackled with excitement. All the commentators, sensing that something had gone wrong with the Overseas Triumph up to now, were sure that this would be the Defining Moment, the Cover Shot, the oft-used film clip, the international version of 'I Have A Dream!'
But it wasn't. On any level. The crowd was big but far smaller than the million-sized monster predicted by the Adoring Press. The speech was a rambling pastiche of shop-worn cliches with no pacing or timing, no FEELING. It dragged on dully for forty-five minutes or so. The lukewarm applause that was there in the beginning faded and all but died out by the end. The Mighty Babe had struck out!
Obama himself knew it. His heart was never into foreign affairs. His only real stated foreign policy goal was the pathetic hope that 'they'll like us again' after the horrible Bush years. So he tried to connect with that. We're all citizens of the world, Blah, Blah, Blah...forgetting that the Germans are already citizens of a vast multi-national conglomerate of nations and are growing increasingly sick of being tied to a gaggle of struggling economies and of being pushed around by faceless international bureaucrats. So he read through his speech in a cadence that would have made blinding rhetorictitians like Gerald Ford proud and as soon as he uttered his last word the networks cut away. FLOP!
The reason none of this is working politically for Obama is simple, he's not addressing what people are concerned about. The falling value of their house, the rising price of energy, the insecurity of their jobs, state and local governments going bankrupt, banks teetering on the edge of failure; every day people are looking at bleaker and bleaker future prospects and they're terrified. Even a dimwit like McLame has a better feel for what's going on than the lordly Obama and his media entourage. They're essentially even in the polls. None of this foreign stuff has helped Obama one single bit. Possibly it's hurt him to be at the center of such an obviously phony campaign gimmick while real people are looking for something that will give them confidence that they will weather this storm intact.
Will Obama's tin ear and the surprising lack of bite in his speeches since he clinched the nomination continue? Has the world finally noticed that he has nothing to say? His gaffe-prone performance off-script is shockingly inept and his handlers are much less skilled than the Clinton's ones were at shielding their charge from reporters who have done a little fact-checking and have noticed his many discrepancies as he veers to the center. Can this lightweight, flawed candidate go the distance?
Time will tell.