The Germans were ecstatic when Barack Obama landed in Berlin. They called him the "American Idol," a political superstar they expected to walk on the River Spree. He didn't walk on water, but he didn't disappoint. He promised to remake the world where everybody would love everybody.
"There is a sort of 'Obamamania' in Germany right now," says an aide in German Chancellor Angela Merkel's office, "but I think a lot of people will have their illusions shattered if he does become president."
He's a novelty who causes skeptics to suggest he paraphrase JFK's famous boast at the Berlin Wall: "Ich bin ein beginner." He draws admiration as much for not being George W. as for being the first black presumptive nominee for president.
Europeans, like many Americans, are besotted by sentiment, basing their judgment on what they feel, not what they know. He sounds like he's running for president of the world. The candidate strings words together with enormous flair, but his speeches sound better than they read. The words dazzle, but lack precision. The cadences make music, but music marred by occasional false notes. He complains that his audiences lack focus and are easily distracted, but the real trick is in his rhetoric.
In prescribing more troops for the war in Afghanistan, he calls Iraq a "dangerous distraction." Iraq is dangerous but not a distraction. Iraq, in fact, is a less dangerous place than it was before the surge, which John McCain supported and Obama did not. (When he had the chance, he voted against sending more troops to Afghanistan, too.)
When his campaign suggested that he might speak at the Brandenburg Gate, and he switched to the nearby Victory Column, he said he didn't want the setting to be a distraction. But an appearance at the Brandenburg Gate wouldn't distract so much as reflect his chutzpah. He forced Merkel into the schoolmarm mode, to raise an eyebrow at the choice the chancellor called "odd" for a candidate who was not yet wearing a president's breeches.
William Safire, the New York Times word maven, examined the language he calls "Obamese" and observes that the candidate's use of the word "distraction" smacks of being "defensive," as if criticism is a "diversion of attention" rather than an attempt to gain insight into the man and his message.