Should Americans become more like Our Betters in Europe?
Clearly the 200,000 Germans who gathered to watch Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at Berlin's Tiergarten on Thursday thought so. And in that Obama liberally challenged U.S. policies on the war in Iraq, global warming and U.S. interrogation measures, he gave the German audience the affirmation it craved.
A Pew Research Center poll showed 82 percent of Germans had confidence that Obama would do the right thing on world affairs. No wonder.
In Germany, it was all wunderbar. Addressing the throng as a "proud citizen of the United States," but also "a fellow citizen of the world," Obama seemed to be giving Europeans a role and a voice in an election in which they have no vote.
Not that Europeans haven't tried to play a role in U.S. electoral politics before. Who can forget Operation Clark County? That was the campaign waged by British paper the Guardian that encouraged Brits to write to voters in a swing county in the swing state of Ohio to urge them to vote for 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry -- because "the result of the U.S. election will affect the lives of millions around the world, but those of us outside the 50 states have had no say in it."
Well, they had their say, and Clark was the only county in Ohio to switch from supporting Gore in 2000 to Bush GOP in 2004. George W. Bush garnered some 25 percent more votes than in 2000.
To date, Obamaland has run an extremely savvy and effective campaign, but the European leg of the Obama world tour could be one big wrong turn. Figure that Obama already had the majority of votes among Americans with passports -- that's roughly 34 percent of Americans age 18 or older, according to the Economist. (In 2004, pollster James Zogby found that Americans with active passports preferred Kerry, while those without passports preferred Bush.)
Today, Obama is not polling as strongly as you would expect, given his media coronation. His European capitals tour probably did little to appeal to two-thirds of no-passport-required Americans who may not be all that impressed if the French and Germans go gaga for Obama.
While the speech went over big in Berlin, over time Obama's speeches seem notable for the irritating manner in which he straddles issues. There are no rough edges in his stump rhetoric. While he has a way of seeming to be critical, he is always careful not to make a sharp point.
The speech was classic Obamaspeak: "In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe's role in our security and our future. Both views miss the truth -- that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world; and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe."
As usual, his words appear to be analytical, but probably that's because he comes to no specific conclusion. There is no straight talk on this jet.
Obama opposed the Bush surge of troops in Iraq, and to applause in Deutschland, he spoke against the war. He told the crowd what it wanted to hear.
Conversely, Obama has proposed a surge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- a position that will require sacrifice from American troops who could use more help from abroad. Germany has sent more than 3,500 troops to Afghanistan, most of them essentially exempted from combat duty. Polls show that 85 percent of Germans object to sending more German troops into the southern part of Afghanistan -- yet Chancellor Angela Merkel's government did send a German combat unit into that theatre this summer. Obama had a chance to praise Merkel and speak in support of sending 1,000 more German troops.
This is what he said: "The Afghan people need our troops and your troops, our support and your support, to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida, to develop their economy, and to help them rebuild their nation."
Before the speech, the Washington Post reported that an aide had revealed Obama "will ask Europe to shoulder more of the burden to help deal with global security threats." I guess that was it.
OK, maybe Obama didn't want to come across as a "cowboy," but he didn't exactly come across as a leader either.
When Obama went overseas, he had the perfect platform to take on Western Europe's defense-light posture, but all he could mutter was, "Merci beaucoup."