Recently I had the privilege of being invited to apply for the position of contributing speechwriter for the Barack Obama for President campaign. If last week’ s Berlin address is an example of the speechwriters he employs, he certainly doesn’ t need me. It is the greatest speech I have read since Martin Luther King Jr.’ s “I Have a Dream” speech, not just for its expression of shared ideology, not just for its humble eloquence, but for its grounded and pragmatic principles, principles shared by all peace-loving cultures on earth.
Obama’ s speech, by turns poetic and triumphant, somber and cautionary, capitalizes on the history-defining legacy of two powerful American leaders who once visited Berlin before him — John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan:
“People of the world — look at Berlin!
“Look at Berlin, where the bullet holes in the buildings and the somber stones and pillars near the Brandenburg Gate insist that we never forget our common humanity.
“People of the world — look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one.”
While the American press continues its myopic coverage of important political events, dismissing Obama’ s speech as a ploy to upstage John McCain at home, 200,000 Europeans got the straight message of progessivism from a natural American leader whose importance on the world stage at this time of economic uncertainty and Middle Eastern tension supersedes tidings of international good will.
In his words of cautious optimism, Obama has laid claim to the necessity of a modern, international worldview which doesn’ t allow for the near-fatal national policies and mistakes of the past. He knows as well as anyone that we were lucky to survive into the new century, to re-assemble an earth shattered by world war, to end a Cold War grounded in grudge and attrition.
He realizes equally that the challenges we are facing in the near future may test the human race even more than all previous wars combined. Global warming, terrorism, foreign conflict, nuclear proliferation, hunger, poverty, AIDS — these are the new, deadly, common enemies of our shared civilization.
As the Illinois senator has traversed our troubled republic seeking support for his ideas, he has undoubtedly learned that it is no easy task trading the politics of fear for the “audacity of hope” and change. But Obama’ s lofty aspirations and ambitious, fully formed national agenda are grounded by a common-sense pragmatism that speaks not just to the powerful factions that control the flow of influence in Washington, but to the fearful, the jaded and the disenfranchised important voices of dissent that have been marginalized in our society for far too long. To his credit, he has learned to tap this power source and direct its energy into solid grass-roots political support.
Despite efforts by his critics to claim the contrary, Obama has made clear that this election is not politics as usual. In his deliberate bearing and judicious choice of words, he carries the burden of a fractured post-Sept. 11 society and a world community struggling to make sense of both extreme Muslim terrorism and American aggression abroad.
Regardless of the November outcome, he already has proven that hope is a powerful force which lives in unlikely places, in the hearts and minds of people all over the world who know that this American election is an opportunity too important to squander.
This sentiment is perhaps best expressed by two lines from the speech itself: “People of Berlin — people of the world — this is our moment. This is our time.”
Keith Stover is a freelance writer, artist and musician who lives in Bucksport. A transcript of Barack Obama’ s Berlin speech can be found at www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/07/24/obama.words/index.html.