The World from Berlin: 'Obama Is Not a Messiah Anymore'

Most Germans are relieved that US President Barack Obama has been re-elected. But lacking the same level of support at home, he has a tough road ahead, the country's media commentators say on Thursday. They urge Obama to exhibit strong leadership both domestically and abroad.

Democratic Party supporters in Berlin on election night: Polls showed that the majority of Germans supported President Barack Obama during the campaign. Zoom
DPA

Democratic Party supporters in Berlin on election night: Polls showed that the majority of Germans supported President Barack Obama during the campaign.

The re-election of US President Barack Obama was widely reported Thursday in Germany under the headline "A Second Chance."

That second chance, according to German commentators, would include the opportunity for Obama, without the fear of another re-election campaign, to take a stronger leadership role at home and abroad.

German newspapers on Thursday were filled with smiling photos of the newly re-elected president and his family. There was also considerable coverage of how race and ethnicity factored into the race, and what that means for the future of the two major US parties.

Several of the commentaries in major German newspapers took a pessimistic view of the prospect of breaking the gridlock in Washington between the administration and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But they also wrote that Obama should now use his post to more actively engage in the world, strengthening ties with Germany and Europe, but especially in the Middle East.

Along those lines, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Thursday called for new momentum "to overcome the stalemate in the Mideast peace process or to support the changes in the Arab world," according to conservative daily Die Welt. Westerwelle also said he hopes that during Obama's second term further progress will be made on nuclear disarmament, and pointed to Obama's speech in Prague in 2009, in which he laid out the goal of a pursuing a nuclear-free world.

The challenges that lie ahead for the president are "not for the timid," writes one commentator. Here is a sampling of what others had to say:

The conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"There is much for Obama and the chancellor to discuss. Under the first 'Pacific president,' relations between America and Europe were increasingly neglected, while during the campaign they played no role at all. The establishment of a trans-Atlantic free trade area would be important not only for economic reasons, but it would also symbolize the unity of the West in a rapidly changing world. Both sides must be careful not to continue drifting apart amid the fight against the financial and debt crises. Obama was no friend of Merkel's budget consolidation line, but is likely to reach the limits of his own debt policy in the struggle with Congress over his country's own finances. That's why Washington will also demand that Europe, with Germany in the lead, become more involved in political, financial and military crisis management around the world."

"This time the expectations for Obama are significantly lower than in 2008. This should also be liberating for the president as he gets to work. Obama is not a Messiah anymore. Now he just has to be a good politician."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The newly re-elected president actually has enough to do at home, but he still can't continue to neglect the international arena. This isn't just the same old moaning here in Germany about how America is turning away from Europe. Syria, the Iranian nuclear program, Netanyahu's policy of retaliation, the crisis region between Tunisia and Afghanistan -- all of these demand more than a wait and see approach, or even appeasement. On his trips abroad, Romney gave the impression of how America could do things the wrong way. In his second term, Obama must be more active as relates to the Muslim world and China. He must lead, not just in Washington, but around the world."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Obama must show that he can demonstrate courage and toughness, and not just with the killing of Osama bin Laden. In his second term, he must take his own promises seriously. He must risk everything to close down Guantanamo, even if, in the end, he fails due to the conditions in the US."

"Regarding the conflict in the Middle East, he has long stood on the edge of what is possible. His predecessors showed that a US president can also make strong demands of Israel."

"The greatest challenge will be, however, to distribute what little financial resources there are, so that he doesn't disappoint those who elected him again. That would be fatal. Because America's greatest strength is the citizens' belief in possibilities. Obama promised to be the guardian of their dreams. And he challenged his country to dream again."

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung writes:

"Obama has been re-elected, and the problems haven't gotten much smaller. He is leading a heavily indebted nation, which is ailing in many ways. The Republicans are still in control in the House and the simmering Middle East is in desperate need of a peace strategy, which can only be developed with the help of the United States. The world is waiting for the Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, to earn his medal."

"These are not tasks for the timid. And though Obama will enter his second term in office with less euphoria than he did four years ago, he will bring with him a greater sense of realism and more self-confidence."

The mass-circulation daily Bild writes:

"On election night in Chicago, Barack Obama proved once again that he can move people, capturing their hope and optimism with words. … But this time real change must follow the words. We need an America that makes the world a better place, and a US president who bravely confronts the world's problems."

The business daily Financial Times Deutschland writes:

"Obama has more freedom in his second term. Since he can't run again, he doesn't have to think about his next election. His attention will be less on voter groups and more on the history books. What will remain from the Obama era? In his first term he focused all of his energies on the historic healthcare reform and on the avoidance of economic collapse, and both have been largely concluded."

"Next in line is cleaning up public finances. If the president and Congress don't avoid the 'fiscal cliff' (prompting automatic tax increases and cuts to programs by failing to agree on the budget soon) it threatens to damage the already shaky economy. There could be a tug-of-war between Obama and his opposition similar to the one last year over raising the debt ceiling, when a devastating financial crisis was averted at the last minute. At that time, the Republicans had hoped to push Obama out of office with their blockade tactics. The results of this election should have erased these hopes, and therefore opened the door for compromise."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"It takes a substantial amount of faith in God to believe that Barack Obama will now be able to achieve what he couldn't do in the last four years: an understanding with the opposition. First, because he's dealing with a party that will be licking its wounds for a long time. And because this party is still reluctant to finance spending cuts in the budget with tax increases. This is complicated by the fact that the president must still negotiate this problem with the old Congress."

"There is also the question of how Obama will find the right mix of emotion, expertise and a down-to-earth quality in his approach to the opposing fronts. The 51-year-old president has been missing this in the past. … To do this Obama will have to reinvent himself. Whether he succeeds depends on how he interprets the victory -- as proof of his sanctity because he has no longer fears another election, or as a liberation from constraints, be they political or personal. But because the political situation between the Democratic White House and the split Congress has not really changed, things depend more on the president now than they did four years ago. As the winner, Obama must now rise to the occasion and be flexible -- and fast."

The conservative daily Die Welt addresses the state of the Republican party after its loss:

"Going moderate, adapting, or even pandering to Obama? The battle for the soul of the Republican Party won't be conducted in such a European fashion. Unlike the way things would play out in Germany, nobody can impose marching orders on the party's different factions. … The impression that a Republican blockade in Congress could threaten the party's chances in the 2016 election is indeed likely to be some cause for thought. But for many conservatives out there in the vast country, blocking projects that they believe betray the legacy of America is an honorable goal."

"Still, it will be a huge feat for Mitt Romney's successors to keep the party from disintegrating into several groups. These people will of course be looked upon with great interest by the Democrats. … But there are many different kinds of people in the partry of Abraham Lincoln, and its many branches are likely to need someone like him to avoid collapsing under the weight of political over-extension."

-- Mary Beth Warner and Kristen Allen

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