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Opinion: No. 44 Has Spoken

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Anyone who saw Barack Obama at Berlin's Siegessäule on Thursday could recognize that this man will become the 44th president of the United States. He is more than ambitious -- he wants to lay claim to become the president of the world.

It was a ton to absorb -- and what a stupendous ride through world history: the story of his own family, the Berlin Airlift, terrorists, poorly secured nuclear material, the polar caps, World War II, America's errors, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, freedom. It's amazing anyone could pack such a potpourri of issues into the space of a speech that lasted less than 30 minutes.

So what sticks? That Barack Obama is a passionate politician who is fixated on -- and takes very seriously -- his desire for a better world. That he is an impressive speaker who knows how to casually draw his audience into his image of the world -- one who doesn't have any need to resort to the kind of cheap effects that tend to prompt the uproarious applause of an audience. That he is a typical American -- an idealist in the true spirit of the American success story who is now very casually making his claim to becoming something akin to the president of the world.

He also could have said: We are a world power, the only one on the planet at the moment, and I intend to act as if this were the case. But you're also allowed to participate in the attempt to try to save the world -- at least a bit of it. In that sense I am different from George W. Bush, very different. Indeed, Barack Obama has his own sound -- it's more utopian, he speaks of the general human desire for better conditions for all of humanity; and he speaks of the longing for strong and dynamic presidents and chancellors who are capable of acting on a global scale. With this drive and this radiance, he managed to drive Hillary Clinton out of the campaign. It is also the way he will outpace John McCain by November 4. It is the way he took the hearts of Americans by storm, and it is the way he is now taking Europe by storm.

Anyone who saw him make the short way from the Victory Column in Berlin on Thursday to the podium saw a man with the serious gait of a basketball player, a man who seemed young, decisive and focused. For those who witnessed his appearance in Berlin, it is hard to imagine that John McCain has any chance. McCain is 25 years his senior, a man who because of the torture he endured in Vietnam is in constant pain -- unable to comb his hair or lift his arm in celebration.

Europe is witnessing the 44th president of the United States during this trip. Anyone who listens to him realizes that he is not only ambitious but will also make demands. In the inner circles of Angela Merkel's Chancellery, he is reportedly seen as a pleasant person, one who arouses curiosity.

However, he is also certain to demand the help of the Germans, Brits and French in Afghanistan and Iraq. He's not going to let NATO shirk its duty -- and therein lie the perils of the engaging "we" and the catchy "Yes, we can." Otherwise all these hard-nosed Europeans will hope and pray that the future President Obama isn’t really all that serious about the saving the world of tomorrow, the polar caps, Darfur and the poppy harvest over in Afghanistan.

George W. Bush is yesterday, the Texas version of the arrogant world power. Obama is all about today -- the "everybody really just wants to be brothers and save the world" utopia. As for us, we who sometimes admire and sometimes curse this somewhat anemic, pragmatic democracy, we will have to quickly get used to Barack Obama, the new leader of a lofty democracy that loves those big nice words -- words that warm our hearts and alarm our minds.

Let's allow ourselves to be warmed today, by this man at the Victory Column. Then we'll take a further look.

Gerhard Spörl is the chief editor of DER SPIEGEL's foreign desk.

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