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Friday, August 1, 2008

Critics of Obama's Overseas Performance Have No Understanding of History or Rhetoric

Some responses to the criticism of Barack Obama that has followed his speech in Berlin last week. Summary: I think the criticisms all show a poor understanding of history, and the nature of politics, rhetoric, and fame.

1. Charles Krauthammer has been widely quoted as saying Obama didn't "earn" the right to speak in Berlin, as did JFK and Reagan.

My response: Speakers - whether Presidents or Presidential candidates, or anyone - don't "earn" the right to speak by their credentials beforehand. Rather, they are invited, if the host sees fit. And they may or may not attract a large audience. Obama attracted a huge audience of 200,000. By that measure, not to mention the audience's reaction, Obama eminently earned his right to speak in Berlin.

2. David Brooks is of the opinion that whereas JFK's and Reagan's speeches in Berlin consisted of rhetoric grounded in reality, Obama's was merely rhetoric.

My response: Really? How was JFK's "I am a Berliner" grounded in reality - last time I checked, JFK was an American, Washingtonian, New Englander, etc. In fact, that was classic rhetoric, taken from the ancient "I am a Roman." And Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" was real in what way? Was that a serious threat or proposal? In the end, the wall was torn down by the Germans, not Mr. Gorbachev. JFK, Reagan, and Obama all used soaring rhetoric not grounded in reality. For that matter, so did Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and most great political speakers and writers.

3. And then we get to the McCain campaign's attempt to paint Obama as pursuing fame - you've no doubt seen the ad with Britney Spears and Paris Hilton on television and YouTube.

My response: Fame has forever been and always will be inextricably linked to politics in a democratic society, in which candidates get elected to office by the people. Reagan got elected Governor of California because people knew him as an actor, and the same of course is the case with the Terminator. The decisive point in evaluating candidates is not whether they use fame in their campaigns, but what ideas and plans they have for their state or nation if elected.

Barack Obama's ideas are far more original and appealing than John McCain's - and if Obama gives speeches that inspire millions of people, which his opponent is also incapable of, then so much the better.


mike's spot said...


Is Obama afforded the security as an actual president? that is to say, do all presidential candidates receive secret service protection?

The only reason I ask is because his location is a logistical nightmare to try to set up.

I know this has virtually nothing to do with your post, but it got me thinking about it.

Paul Levinson said...

I don't know if Obama's Secret Service protection is literally as much as a President's, but I read that Obama's getting more Secret Service protection than any other candidate in history (and it's been in place longer - since early 2007).