|A Tale of Four Berlin Speeches: JFK, Reagan and Obama|
By Timothy H. Lee
Thursday, June 20 2013
Four presidential speeches in Berlin manifest the worrisome trajectory of American vigor, the contrasting stature of three presidents and the miniaturization of Barack Obama.
In June 1963, John F. Kennedy stood near a Berlin Wall erected two years earlier and defiantly proclaimed, “All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, ‘Ich bin ein Berliner!”
In June 1987, Ronald Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and commanded, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Two short years later, that wall was dismantled.
This week, Barack Obama spoke at that same Brandenburg Gate, and… Well, let’s let MSNBC apologist Chris Matthews summarize:
“I think a lot of the problem he had today was, the late afternoon sun in Berlin ruined his use of the teleprompter. And so his usual dramatic windup was ruined. I think he was really struggling with the text there.”
In fact, Obama’s performance didn’t even measure up to his own 2008 Berlin speech: Whereas 200,000 celebrated his “citizen of the world” debut in 2008, only 4,500 invited guests attended this iteration. Moreover, the thick bulletproof glass surrounding the podium created the appearance of a giant aquarium, and ostentatiously discarding his suit jacket only served to emphasize Obama’s wife-beater undershirt beneath a soaked dress shirt.
And despite the grand stage and obvious historical precedents to which he would be compared, the subjects of Obama’s speech were characterized by minutiae and malaise.
First, he went groveling to Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin by proposing a new round of nuclear reductions. “I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures,” Obama said. Unimpressed, Putin responded with disinterest. “Before discussing the necessity of a further reduction of nuclear weapons,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, “we need to arrive at an acceptable solution of the ABM problem.”
Translation: The U.S. must cave on missile defense.
So whereas JFK and Reagan stood up to Soviet leaders, Obama can’t even manage to supplicate successfully.
Similarly, Obama’s curious attempt to defend his domestic data collection policy to a German audience didn’t resonate. As protesters marched outside, Obama pleaded, “Our current programs are bound by the rule of law, and they’re focused on threats to our security, not the communications of ordinary persons.” The city in which the harrowing film “The Lives of Others” was set apparently isn’t fertile ground for such assurances.
No word yet from Fox News’s James Rosen or CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson in reaction to that claim.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an Obama speech without the obsolete but obligatory hosanna to European global warming orthodoxy:
“The effort to slow climate change requires bold action. And on this, Germany and Europe have led… This is the global threat of our time. And for the sake of future generations, our generation must move toward a global compact to confront a changing climate before it is too late. That is our job. That is our task. We have to get to work.”
Thus, Obama not only continued his habit of repenting to effete European audiences, he ignored the emerging scientific consensus that global temperatures have actually remained steady over two decades despite annual increases in worldwide carbon output.
Obama also raised the embarrassing topic of Guantanamo Bay, which he promised in January 2009 to close by January 2010, but which remains open today and into the foreseeable future. “Even as we remain vigilant about the threat of terrorism,” he claimed, “we must move beyond a mindset of perpetual war, and in America, that means redoubling our efforts to close the prison at Guantanamo.” So the man who promised in 2008 to halt the oceans’ rise is now reduced to trying harder to close a simple prison.
For good measure, Obama even attempted a repeat of his 2008 “citizen of the world” oxymoron: “We are not only citizens of America or Germany – we are also citizens of the world.”
And conspicuously, Obama paid homage to JFK several times, but did not similarly reference President Reagan. Such is the pettiness that characterizes his presidency.
But the point here isn’t to simply belittle the ever-shrinking Obama. Rather, it’s to sound the alarm on how far we’ve fallen in our national aspirations, vigor and leadership. And to illustrate the continuing lesson we’re learning about the danger when a democratic republic elects a president on the basis of superficial celebrity qualities rather than intellectual depth and leadership.
Due in large part to poor presidential leadership, our national and world economies continue to stagnate, and worldwide security continues to deteriorate.
Four speeches by presidents in Berlin tell that tale all too starkly.
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