Looking for More from Obama

By Alan Stewart Carl | Related entries in Barack, Germany

Yesterday, Barack Obama gave one of his Important Speeches to the people of Berlin. The words were, as always, uplifting and the message chock-full of calls for unity. He used the fall of the Berlin wall as a continuing motif, a metaphor for world unity. That led to this riff:

The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down.

He went on to tell the world “this is the moment” to stand up against all the problems which plague us. And while people cheered and Obama supporters swooned, I was left with one thought. As Jake bitterly says at the end of The Sun Also Rises:

“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

I’m not naturally inclined to cynicism. In fact, I have great optimism for this world. I’ve just grown so weary of Obama’s demands for a unity that no one can reasonably expect or achieve – a call for unity that asks no sacrifices but for all the world to lay down animosities and join hands. How wonderful that would be. But it’s not going to happen under any American presidency.

Maybe we should be generous and let Obama have his last, Great Hope tour. It is only July. But if he wants a shot at my vote (and I’m still keeping both doors open in this election), he’s got to stop telling me the dream and start telling me the how. And don’t mean merely saying he will “open dialogues” with our enemies. I want to know what his carrots and sticks will be. I sense that such specificity is within him – I just haven’t seen enough.

Until then, I have to agree with David Brooks in today’s New York Times:

“[O]ptimism without reality isn’t eloquence. It’s just Disney.”


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14 Responses to “Looking for More from Obama”

  1. mike mcEachran Says:

    I agree with you Alan. My “hope” is that Obama is playing his cards one at a time. It seems to me that he has no motivation, yet, to layout detailed blueprints for people to pick apart. He’s riding a wave that’s working (so far). I’m voting for him no matter what (no way can I vote for a snarky, little Bush hugger), but I’m ready to see some more meat on Obama’s bones. I think we’ll see it, when it’s the right time politically.

  2. DougL Says:

    In all fairness, while McCain’s not all flowery language and optimism, your same point could be made about expecting McCain to elaborate on his road map to victory in Iraq, where we are on the road map today and how we’re going to get there beyond just “withdrawl is defeat”. Yes?

  3. Jimmy the Dhimmi Says:

    The walls between races and tribes; natives and immigrants; Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand.

    Obama is an Islamophobe. The Koran clearly states that non-Muslims must be segregated and subjugated under Islamic rule. Unless he is not speaking metaphorically, and is referring to the wall separating Palestine from Israel; tearing down that wall would result in killing more Jews, and may eventually lead to the destruction of the Jewish state and the subjugation of its inhabitants under Sharia.

  4. rob Says:

    I think we’ll see it, when it’s the right time politically.
    translation: after he’s elected… :p

    Seriously though, it’s a salient point that will be disregarded in favor of fervent adoration.

    Although I guess it doesn’t really matter, I went from liking the prospects of either candidate as POTUS to recognizing that they’re both the same old thing repackaged for 2008.

    The more things “change”, the more things stay the same…

  5. mike mcEachran Says:

    Rob, you may be right. Obama may not need to reveal too much detail before he’s elected. And if he doesn’t need to, he won’t. Any good leader knows, what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. His job is to lead without tripping the wires of old, worn, longstanding prejudices and partisan arguments. So far it’s working, and he’ll keep it up until it doesn’t work anymore. I think we’re just hungery for policy fodder like “Driver’s licenses for imigrants??!!! Egads!”

  6. Tully Says:

    RE: the Berlin speech, Jim Geraghty had this to say that I found appropriate….

    I think I preferred it the first time I heard it, when it was sung by all those celebrities and rock stars back in the mid-80s. Oh, wait, that was “We Are The World.”

    Since listening to the speech put that song running through my head (and I hate that song) his post rang a bell for me.

    But if he wants a shot at my vote (and I’m still keeping both doors open in this election), he’s got to stop telling me the dream and start telling me the how.

    I took a day off and braved blizzards and crowds to hear Obama speak this winter, and that was pretty much my take on his entire rhetorical arsenal. Yes, all those thing sound great. Now, how are you going to deliver? Where’s the money coming from? Etc.

    He shore do talk purty. But I’ve been in RealPolitik for decades, and talkin’ purty doesn’t impress me much. It’s a great skill to have, but more is required. Much more.

  7. Tully Says:

    His job is to lead without tripping the wires of old, worn, longstanding prejudices and partisan arguments.

    No. Right now his job is to convince a sufficient number of voters that an Obama presidency would be better overall for America than a McCain presidency.

  8. Brian in LA Says:

    I feel like both candidates are running out the clock until the conventions. This election season has been SO long, You’ll note that Obama gave a huge number of specifics in late 2007 (lots of wonky policy speeches that didn’t get much press), but I think his strategy in both the primary and this early season of the general is to bring ears to the table so he can lay down his specifics to a captive, engaged audience.

    He’s given major internationally followed speeches on race, globalization and the state of America (Iowa victory). The convention speech will most likely be Obama’s last major soaring speech (anniversary of the I have a Dream speech. It’s gonna be a stunner). He’s gotten you and David Brooks captively listening for proposals and specifics. I think it’s a shrewd move that will make for some seriously interesting debates. He better deliver on the specifics though because if he doesn’t he’s going to have a lot of pissed off followers.

  9. kranky kritter Says:

    What I hope, Alan, is that you aren’t holding your breath. We’d miss you! :-)

    Details are not the stuff of major speeches. Adoring crowds want red meat and inspiration. If and when Obama speaks in detail about his plans for or understanding of any given issue, it will be in settings such as interviews and in front of small interest groups. Even small interest groups are going to be plagued by the possibility of such appearances going rock star.

    Likely we’ll have to settle for the hope that he will put his demonstrable skill in the bully pulpit to good use, or else give in to the fear that he hasn’t said enough to allow us to reasonably trust that will.

  10. Tully Says:

    He’s gotten you and David Brooks captively listening for proposals and specifics.

    I’ve been listening for two years. My ears are tired of cotton-candy generalities.

  11. gerryf Says:

    Methinks thou protests too much….

    Honestly, can you point to any presidential candidate–ever–who at this stage of the campaign of been more specific?

    To simply say he has not been specific enough makes one as guilty as the the guy you are accusing of being vague. What do you want to hear?

    Ask a specific question, get a specific answer; complain about vague generalities and you it’s impossible to reply.

    As Brian and others have noted, Obama released many plans and positions in 2007 to big yawns. As others have noted, a speech before several thousand people is hardly the place for detailed white papers on troop redeployment plans.

    Let’s take Iran.

    The US wants Iran to give up it’s goals of nuclear weapons.
    Carrots: membership in the World Trade Organization, economic investments, movement toward normal diplomatic relations.

    Sticks: increased economic pressure (read sanctions) and increased efforts to isolate Iran political with the aid of our allies who will be our allies, not a coalition of some more willing than others. In order to achieve this, the US needs to abandon it’s go it alone cowboyisms and renew its world wide diplomacy (so our allies our on board).

    Now, I grant you that is not as detailed as one could get. Economic investment? What kind of investment? What does a move toward normal diplomatic relations mean?

    But, to be fair to Obama, he needs to sit down with Iran to workout these kinds of details. And that is impossible without DIPLOMACY, which McCain opposes.

    What does he mean by increased economic pressure (read sanctions)? What specific sanctions? How will he isolate Iran politically? Again, its fair to note that is not as specific as one would like, but have you ever demanded this much from another presidential candidate?

    Be honest. Bush’s candadacy the first time was free money and family values? How specific is that? The second time he ran on I won’t let the boogie man get you.

    I’m all for specifics, but specifics are not as nearly to present when you are more than 4 months away from possible taking office.

  12. Justin Gardner Says:

    @tully…oh please. Do I have to link to his website again where he has specific proposals on nearly every single topic you can come up with?

    And honestly, what are you expecting? Pre-written bills?

    This “lack of detail” meme is nonsense and always has been. He had more detail than Hillary when she was accusing him of the same thing.

  13. Alyssa Hussein Kim Says:

    i really respected David Brooks’ column until now. Brooks makes it seem like the inspiration Obama ignites is nothing but smoke and mirrors. i don’t know about the rest of you, but i didn’t realize the full extent to which i was downtrodden and ashamed of the US image abroad until Obama’s message of hope and change came along. i have been ashamed of my country for 8 long years. i’ve been ashamed of our hypocrisy and our lies. most of all, i’ve been ashamed of our administration and its actions in our “war on terror.”

    so skewer me for grasping onto hope. skewer me for feeling uplifted at the mere prospect of a better world. skewer me for wanting to step up and do something to stop genocide (what happened to “never again”?!?), to try to eliminate world hunger (do you know we have yet to provide clean water to all the world’s children), and bring peace to the middle east without remaking them in our own image.

    my biggest problem with Brooks’s piece is that he berates the message of hope and change. BUT WHERE ELSE DO WE START? if we don’t believe change is possible, if we don’t believe that there is another way, if we don’t believe that our country has to continue down this path of arrogance and human rights violations, we’ll not only remain in this rut but we’ll keep digging in deeper. someone has got to step up. if not us, who? china, with its abysmal record re tibet? iran? north korea? if we don’t change our behavior and promote the good in humanity, the axis of evil will take over the world! my god, i could be a republican!!

    it starts with hope. and with hope, comes belief; with belief, activism. and with activism, change.

  14. RuthDfW Says:

    Obama can lead a person to the well, but he can’t make you drink. If you are not willing to invest the time to read his policy positions on everything but the kitchen sink clearly available on his website – I don’t know what to tell you.

    Click on Issues and there are detailed positions on everything from Civil Rights to Urban Policy and Veterans. Click on an issue you see a quote, at a glance links and cliff note versions on his position followed by his record, link to the speech and a link to the full version of his PLAN.

    Then visit John McCain’s website – which I just did for the 1st time actually – and compare his Issues link on the economy to Obama’s just for laughs. Now Sen. “Experience” McCain would seem to have much more judgment for us to compare after all his years of experience.

    So be a little more creative than this ridiculous call for “details” please.

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