The World from Berlin: 'America's Renewal Is No Modest Undertaking'

Germans are anxiously looking forward to the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency Tuesday. German commentators know that the road to change is steep and long, but they're happy Obama will be at the wheel.

A Russian matryoshka doll featuring portraits of President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama.
REUTERS

A Russian matryoshka doll featuring portraits of President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama.

Whether in front of their computers at work or in bars and living rooms, Germans across the country are looking forward to seeing Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th president of the United States Tuesday evening.

Chancellor Angela Merkel told Germany's ARD television Tuesday that this is "a truly great hour for America" that offers "a multitude of opportunities" for international cooperation on issues such as the global financial crisis and terrorism.

For the average German, Tuesday marks a culmination of months of anticipation brought on by the close scrutiny given to the entire campaign and election seasons. For them, it would seem that the real trans-Atlantic issue of the day isn't so much about restoring frayed political ties as seeing whether Obama will inspire Americans to change -- and preferably change back into something many Germans once greatly admired.

Older Germans in particular long held a highly positive view of the US, largely because of the country's role in rebuilding Germany after World War II and supporting it during the Cold War. However that positive image has been partially tarnished in recent years due to trans-Atlantic differences of opinion on the Iraq war and other issues.

Knowing the hurdles Obama faces, Germany's newspaper commentators are not starry-eyed about the incoming president's prospects for securing immediate change. But they are on the whole optimistic about both him and his chances.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"A president is not sent from God but rather elected by the people. He is the mirror image of the people. America's presidents have almost always been white men older than 50. For a long time, they have embodied the American mainstream. In recent years, however, that has changed. George W. Bush only represented a minority in America: white, conservative Christians whose values were anchored in the sparsely populated regions of the central and southwestern parts of the country. In his convictions -- but particularly in his political behavior --, Bush has been a redneck, a swashbuckling provincial who has embarrassed even those in America who aren't fans of big cities and endless suburbs."

"Even if the future still holds a place for the type of people in the South and the West who drive around with guns in their pickup trucks, America has undergone dramatic transformations over the last 30 years. Although not in all regions, America has become a multiethnic society, where people are still frequently stereotyped based on their skin color, but where that skin color does not necessarily determine one's fate. The level of enthusiasm with which Obama inspires people, which occasionally resembles religious fervor, also has something to do with that. Obama disproves the theories of those who fear -- or want to provoke -- a clash of civilizations and conflict between different ethnic groups in America. No, Barack Obama is the new face of America -- even if that just might be hard to swallow for the white sheriff in Alabama and the farmer in Nebraska."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"Barack Obama won the presidency by winning the passionate support of millions of Americans. But he will only be successful if he holds on to it. … Although the challenges this man faces as he enters the White House are mighty, Obama can tackle them. …"

"The multiple crises (which the US faces) cannot be solved with the standard approaches. In order to stop the downward economic spiral, Obama will have to do nothing less than to put a new New Deal into motion. … And, on top of that, he also hopes to completely revolutionize health care policies, improve the pitiful American educational system and end a war."

"The fact that all of these tasks are enormous in and of themselves makes it naive to assume that Obama could deliver a completely remolded United States after a mere four or eight years in office. Still, it's worth looking back at the history of the New Deal. Even then, there was no overnight transformation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried a wide range of things, took many false steps and was even forced to have the Supreme Court determine whether certain measures were constitutional."

"However, in the end, Roosevelt succeeded. He created a spirit of optimism that gave people new prospects. Obama's goal is the same; he calls it 'America's renewal.' That is no modest undertaking. But it does communicate the magnitude of the tasks."

The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"The expectations being placed on the new president are enormous. Whether it has been partially fostered by his rhetoric or public demeanor or not, even Obama's contemporaries who are less susceptible to enthusiasm behold him as the savior of the planet. While this hope shows a faith in the supreme power of politics and one man, it is also an enormous burden. Obama might not fall in the public opinion polls as much as his predecessor has. But a man who can compare himself to Lincoln with bold self-confidence and who seeks out the mantle of responsibility is setting the bar very high for himself. …"

"Obama will primarily direct his energy and power toward putting the country in a position to succeed in its own, somewhat over-confidently named, 'renewal.' In doing so, Congress is already making sure that the laws that determine how politics work will not be suspended. And although major socio-political differences might recede into the background, they certainly won't be replaced by a new feeling of collective identity overnight. Obama's priorities will be dictated by the economic and financial crises. He will not be able to fulfill certain promises, and he will occasionally be forced to disappoint. But he will be judged on the big rather than the small things. He will be judged … on whether he can bring about the 'renewal of America's promise.'"

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"When Barack Obama is sworn in on this ice-cold day as the 44th president of the United States of America, the hopes being placed on him will be even greater than (those that accompanied his candidacy). The Americans believe in this man. They trust him, and they are at least ready to grant him something that Americans aren't exactly famous for: patience. ... When Barack Obama holds up his hand today to swear the oath of office, it will not only be the Democrats who wish him well, but also many Republicans."

"Critics call Obama's 'all-inclusive politics' too arbitrary; they miss clear-cut positions and clear gestures. But the fact is that America is stuck in a gigantic economic crisis, plus it is waging two wars and its global reputation has suffered much damage. The nation -- both Republicans and Democrats alike -- is pining for someone who can heal its wounds. Barack Obama will be this healer. It will not be easy because America will have to make many sacrifices. But it will still be easier for America if its people have the feeling that they are doing it together."

-- Josh Ward, 1:00 p.m. CET

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