There is something close to biblical about rain: when the skies give way to an almost cathartic downpour, draining off the drudge, sins and conversation-residuals clogging the streets. The torrents thus offered an appropriate background for the “Who’s Obama” debate featuring Tagesspiegel US-correspondent Christoph von Marschall and Anjana Shrivastava, “Winning the White House”-columnist for Welt Online which took place on January 21st, 2008. The prophesized savior of American politics, Barack Obama, drew close to a 100 people, who sought shelter in the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung on this rainy, borderline-suicidal Monday evening, to learn about the self-professed harbinger of a new era – in a country so far from home.
According to Marschall, “[Obama’s] life story is his political programmatic. [He] has become a parable of the American Dream. His rallies are reminiscent of religious events […] Ever since his now famous 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, MA, Obama has become something like a “’projection screen’ for hopes and dreams not even an Übermensch could fulfill.”
Should Obama go on to become the 44th US president this would, according to Marschall mean history coming full circle: beginning with Lincoln, hailed as the abolisher of slavery, and ending with Obama, the first African American president in US history.
To draw attention to Lincoln’s debatable opportunist use of abolitionist rhetoric to favor the Union would have been futile. To remark that Lincoln self-admittedly would have sustained the peculiar institution to save the Union and; if so; would have transformed the “full circle” into a ring of fire, would have spoiled the mood. And, arguably, Lincoln’s early stance on slavery should stand in the shadow of his contribution to its eventual abolishment. Yet, good as Marschall’s intentions were, and they really were, they somehow seemed symptoma tic of a campaign in which gender and race seem to have taken up as much energy and media coverage, if not more, as Iraq, the economy and health care combined.
The future president will have to balance a double-edged sword: on the one hand, the need to prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that he/she (is ready for that “3 a.m. phone call”); on the other, the need to unite (…) to move the country in the right direction – even if it takes donkeys and elephants to get there. (…) Obama is a political prototype of a “uniter,” which unquestionably worked in his favor in the early stages of the campaign, where he created a warm contrast to the, sometimes, cool machinery of Clinton’s. But both camps have had to realize the complexity a potential president’s character must contain in 2008, neutralizing their own weaknesses by borrowing the other’s strengths. What has followed has been a wigwag-brouhaha of WWF-style “Mr. & Mrs.-tag-team” attacks and misty-eyed masterpieces.
However, back to Berlin where Shrivastava played the “inexperience“ card: “If Daimler Chrysler were to propose a 21-year-old to get them out of a crisis, people might be skeptic, too. I am not willing to experiment!“ the Welt Online-journalist reasoned. People got it. “Der Präsident ist sehr viel learning on the job,” Marschall responded. People got that, too. In the meantime, Shrivastava reloaded, took aim, and fired…hitting nothing but air.
Claiming “international experience” as a disqualifier for the presidencyis a clear stab in the dark for two reasons:
For one, a considerable portion of the United States’ citizens has never traveled outside US borders, let alone to Europe. Admittedly, that does not add up to not caring about international affairs; by all means, Americans have experienced first-hand the effects a bad image can have on a nation. Yet, the Bush Administration’s fatal ventures into distant plains (Iraq) coupled with domestic catastrophes have created an urgency among the public for the next president to direct his or her focus inwards, and “stop playing cowboys” for the taxpayers’ money.
Secondly, most senators, who make up a significant part of presidential candidates, have little to no international experience. Their main concern is to represent the voters of their State and maybe an occasional business trip – something that requires a thorough national and regional knowledge, but does not necessitate a half-full “Where I’ve Been”-map. That happens when an administration is appointed. Still, let’s be frank, we are not looking at any “Minister to France”-Thomas Jeffersons here.
Two hours past and the notion of who Barack Obama really is seemed no clearer than the Berlin sky. Colorful politician or unelectable man of color? Political prophet or America’s next president? As Marschall said, “Obama’s political program is his life story – a parable of the American Dream.”
But there is a long way from Lincoln’s one-room log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky, to Obama’s Honolulu, Hawaii. Dare the Americans keep the Dream alive – full circle?
(Peter A. Dahl, Bachelor-Student)