Friday, July 25, 2008

The First Letter of Barack to the Germans

Barack, being called to redeem the world by the will of God and our brother Chris Matthews, to the ones that have awaited me in the Tiergarten that is in the city of Berlin, called by me to be more than they have been and to arise from their indifferent lives, together with all those in every place yearning to be My Ones and to learn of what change they should believe in,

My peace and that of your mother Michelle be upon you, this is the moment and Ja, k├Ânnen wir.



Obama gave a pretty - although not an extraordinary speech - in Berlin and it wasn't entirely devoid of content. Certainly engagement with our European allies is a good thing, but that is hardly a controversial or novel point.

But the comparisons with speeches at the Brandenburg Gate by John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan are overwrought. Kennedy and Reagan went to Berlin to demonstrate resolve against an existential threat. They spoke difficult words that, particularly in the case of Reagan, were novel and unpopular.

Where is that in Obama's speech. Perhaps it is in his over the top invocation of global warming. Is that to be Obama's crusade? If so, I hope that, should he win, he adopts a more realistic view of both the nature of the threat and what should be done about it.

Is it, as he put it, "to dismantle the networks that have struck in Madrid and Amman; in London and Bali; in Washington and New York." Maybe - but Barack Obama - and, for that matter, most of Europe - have spent more energy on what they will not do than what they will.

JFK and Reagan spoke hard words of truth to power. Obama gave a campaign speech with the typical laundry list of talking points immersed in pettifoggery. It appears that reviews are mixed. They should be.

14 comments:

William Tyroler said...

Two astute commentators, Richard Landes and Ann Althouse, offer withering dismissals -- intriguing not so much because they agree but because they independently invoke flower-power metaphors.

To Althouse, Obama's speech channeled The Youngbloods: Come on, people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another, right now. For Landes, the frame of reference is John Lennon: Obama’s speech in Berlin is a perfect complement to John Lennon’s loopy song, Imagine: soft millennial musak.

No accident, I don't think, that both of these keen observers picked up and articulated just why Obama causes such swooning adulation in his camp followers and distressed bewilderment in his opponents. Yes, yes, he's covered as if he's a rock star, but that's not really it: more specifically, it's that he's a fricking 60s rock star. For at least many of his (aging) supporters, Obama offers a chance to finish what they couldn't. I'd simply say that in retrospect Altamont was a cheap lesson; we can't afford to re-learn it on an international stage with Obama playing Mick Jagger and jihadis playing Hell's Angels.

illusory tenant said...

Prof. Esenberg, why do you and your conservative brethren insist on deploying these facetious Messianic analogies?

What is it about Barack Obama himself -- not the admittedly adulatory response of some of his supporters -- that puts you in mind of the Christian Saviour?

I can imagine such comparisons being offensive to believers, but the funny thing is, the only people making them are Obama's detractors.

Feel free to cite chapter and verse.

I guess I'm just not too clear on how even a fundamental message of changing the political direction of the executive branch quite rises to the level of religious or spiritual salvation.

Where has Obama suggested that it is?

Dad29 said...

Where has Obama suggested that it is?

That's the easy one, so I'll take it.

Didn't he say, when he apparently secured the nomination, that "this is the moment...when the seas shall [recede]"?

Even Jesus Christ didn't promise whirled peas. In fact, He promised a sword.

James Rowen said...

The righty blogs wish they had a candidate they could get excited about.

And they can't deal with the fact that Obama's trip got pretty good reviews - - a trip he was goaded into taking by McCain, who was left to complain back here about what he'd helped bring about.

I also suspect that if left and liberal blogs and pundits kept sarcastically referring to McCain as a diety, the right would say it was irreligious and disrespectful.

One campaign has a pulse, and some zazz. McCain's is a snorefest.

illusory tenant said...

In fact, Jesus Christ promised a sword.

Then why isn't McCain a "Messiah"?

Rick Esenberg said...

It is the mindless adulation of his followers - that being a better word than supporters - but it is also his own over the top rhetoric.

No, conservatives are not as excited about McCain. In fact, I think it is unlikely that conservatives would ever be as excited about any candidate as certain precincts of the left are about Obama because we, by definition, don't expect government to transform our lives.

But, historically, hugely exciting political leaders are, at best, a mixed bag.

As far as this being "offensive" on religious grounds, no one is, of course, saying that Obama puts them in mind of the Christian Savior. Not even close. They are poking fun at his own overbearing self importance.

Rick Esenberg said...

As for the sixties thing, the ads he ran in Wisconsin were clearly intended to evoke that feeling.

illusory tenant said...

So it's Barack Obama's "over the top rhetoric" which is inviting the comparisons with Christ? That's certainly interesting.

What are we to make of that, then, that Christ's rhetoric was similarly "over the top"?

Surely there are other figures from history whose political rhetoric was "over the top," or whose "self importance" was "overbearing."

Why Christ?

The only thing Obama's suggested he was going to save anyone from is yet another Republican administration.

Others may likely disagree, but even that isn't quite unforgivable sin, torturous hellfire, and eternal damnation.

Rick Esenberg said...

IT

Since you regard Christ as just another figure from history, you want to judge what He said in the same way that you judge what others say. But Christians don't believe that He is comparable, so what would be "over the top" for others - say eschatalogical promises - are not for Christ. Suggesting that a politician is acting like a Messiah means that he is acting out of place.

I appreciate that you don't believe what Christians do. But because of that, you're all left feet on this one.

illusory tenant said...

Because [you don't believe what Christians do], you're all left feet on this one.

I don't see what that non sequitur has to do with anything. I'm just asking.

I thought there might be some actual, substantive basis for the desire to compare Obama to a -- or the -- Saviour, but it sounds like there isn't after all.

Rick Esenberg said...

If I thought you really failed to see the sarcasm in referring to a candidate who says that he is, literally, going to remake the world as possessing divine attributes, I'd explain it again.

William Tyroler said...

I thought there might be some actual, substantive basis for the desire to compare Obama to a -- or the -- Saviour, but it sounds like there isn't after all.

Much has to do with the candidate himself, whose policy prescriptions (when not concrete and wrong: opposing the surge) are vague and self-referential ("this is the moment when [fill in the blank for your own favored millennial change-event]. Maybe he's just a narcissist instead of someone afflicted with a messiah complex; and maybe he isn't much different in this respect, if at all, from any other candidate for president.

But much -- and the following point is made intentionally by Rick Esenberg and unintentionally by Jim Rowen -- has to do with his followers (among whose numbers I include vast swaths of the mainstream media). Example: check out the quotes collected here from a scant but representative few public figures and members of the commentariat. Many more such examples might be marshaled, and just consider that even a year-and-a-half ago, the idea of messianism infecting Obama's press coverage began to take root:

Is Barack Obama ... the second coming of our Savior and our Redeemer, Prince of Peace and King of Kings, Jesus Christ? His press coverage suggests we can't dismiss this possibility out of hand. ...

Anonymous said...

Funny, but when you hear a rabid right-winger blathering about Ronald Reagan, much the same emotions are evoked. Now the shoe is on the other foot and many of these people don't like it. Tough toenails!

We may find out if he lives up to the hype.

Anonymous said...

RE: If I thought you really failed to see the sarcasm in referring to a candidate who says that he is, literally, going to remake the world as possessing divine attributes, I'd explain it again.

Could I get the link to the speech in which Obama said, "literally", that he is "going to remake the world"?

Thanks in advance.


WT: Much has to do with the candidate himself, whose policy prescriptions (when not concrete and wrong: opposing the surge)...

Though this is really a long aside: It's worth noting just how silly this is as a bald-faced claim. My uncle quit smoking, then died. Even now the post-hoc correctness of having supported the surge is approximately as well-established as the inference that quitting smoking killed my uncle.

It's very far from clear just how efficacious any of the US's "surge" activities have been in the reduction of violence in some portions of Iraq;and it's still less clear whether any putative success is due to the publicly trumpeted aspects of the "surge" or to such cynical, unsustainable, and very quiet practices as paying insurgents not to fight, or to fight someone else for now.

...are vague and self-referential ("this is the moment when [fill in the blank for your own favored millennial change-event].

Obama is a moment? Or does "self-referential" mean something different in your dialect?

Was G.H.W. Bush's "thousand points of light" or "New World Order" rhetoric also, um, self-referential? Because he too seemed to be saying that, golly, the time was now for important things to happen... Yet I don't recall all these creaky-jointed contortions to try pinning the Messiah label on him.

Maybe he's just a narcissist instead of someone afflicted with a messiah complex; and maybe he isn't much different in this respect, if at all, from any other candidate for president.

Maybe indeed.