The World from Berlin 'Obama Created His Own Movement'

Barack Obama's honeymoon has proven remarkably short. Just a day after celebrating his election as America's 44th president, the real world began to dampen the euphoria. German commentators look at some of the hurdles facing him.


Image and reality: onscreen at the MTV Europe Music Awards.
Getty Images

Image and reality: onscreen at the MTV Europe Music Awards.

For much of the last eight years, the European view of the United States has been relatively one-dimensional, particularly after the hated George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004. America was aggressive, arrogant and disrespectful of the international community and international law, according to the accepted view. Once it was clear that Barack Obama would be chosen by the Democratic Party to challenge John McCain for the presidency, a further element was added to the damning picture: America, many Europeans were certain, was far too racist a country to elect a black man to occupy the White House.

On Tuesday, though, the US elected him -- and quite convincingly. Europe, not surprisingly given the continent's well-documented love affair with Obama, erupted in celebration. But the pundits who have spent the last eight years firing away at America were suddenly forced to alter their story line. The American dream, European commentators are suddenly saying, isn't dead after all. Maybe the US isn't so bad.

But now the euphoria of Tuesday has begun to wear off, and many German pundits have started to examine the coming administration and the very real hurdles that lie in its path.

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung takes a look at a provocative promise by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to station short-range missiles in Kaliningrad, the patch of Russian territory that borders on Poland and Lithuania:

"The Russian leadership could hardly have come up with a more ill-advised move than to announce this step on November 5. Especially since their intention is not really to prevent the creation of an American missile shield. For the moment, it remains unclear whether Barack Obama plans to carry on with this project of President George W. Bush. Everything seems to indicate that he will be far less cavalier than his neo-conservative predecessor. But now Russia has given him no choice. For the first time in 20 years, as the Russian military expert Alexander Golz points out, Moscow has said it will threaten Western countries militarily. Any compromise from the US would look like weakness. Before Obama can even take his first steps, he has already been backed into a corner. Moscow, says Golz, treated newly-elected American presidents better even during Soviet times."

The Financial Times Deutschland focuses more on American party politics:

"The Democratic Party, in this moment of gratitude, will have better things to do than to make things difficult for its president-elect. And the financial crisis gives Obama a good opportunity to approach the most difficult structural changes a bit more slowly."

"The new president also has a chance of surviving a debate over values. He probably will not start his term fighting for issues like gay marriage or abortion rights. He has a chance of winning over the religious wing of American voters -- Obama, as a Christian, is better versed in the Bible than many Republicans."

"As long as he's clever about packaging his call for social justice, he may win more room to move than skeptics believe. He wants to help those who can't help themselves: Sick people without medical care, young people without educational prospects. But he's challenging other people to help. Voluntary social engagement and personal responsibility are old American values that play a big role in Obama's thinking. If he manages to clarify those values he might about a big political change: Obama could take the moral high ground of American values from the Republicans."

The conservative daily Die Welt pontificates on the future of American politics:

"November 4th 2008 has underlined two tendencies. Firstly, there is no general move towards the left. Secondly, both party camps are internally divided. Barack Obama's taking over of the office does not reflect the culmination of a long-brewing political current. That is clear in the fact that the states which had the most success in conservative referendums against same-sex marriage were the same states in which Obama won a significant majority."

"The voting in of Obama was the voting out of Bush -- and it was also the realization of a historically unique chance to give equality to black people. It was unique in the sense that Obama was a black candidate, who unlike previous black political figures, had no special role in his ethnic community."

"For the Republicans, storms lie ahead. The right wing of the conservatives openly say that Bush betrayed Republican principles in his second term, by expanding social provisions for senior citizens and by partly nationalizing banks. But with John McCain as its candidate, the left wing of the party proved itself unable to win. Only the conservative Sarah Palin was able to turn what could have been a catastrophe into a half-way acceptable defeat."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung argues that Obama created his own momentum:

"Barack Obama is not the candidate of a newly established movement. On the contrary, thanks to his grassroots strategy, Obama was able to create his own movement. US citizens from a variety of different political backgrounds threw their support behind a politician who didn't promise a revolution. Instead, he promised to fix what was broken."

"Obama's message, when he appeared as an almost unknown politician on the stage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, was simple: There isn't a red Republican America and a blue Democratic America -- there is only a United States of America. This has remained Obama's message, and it's the reason he won the support of America's blacks, Latinos, young women and disaffected voters. Obama didn't promise to introduce homosexual marriage; he didn't pledge to end capital punishment; he didn't even nail down a clear exit strategy for America's wars. He did, however, promise to solve the country's problems in a pragmatic way. And that is exactly what the American electorate elected him to do."

-- Charles Hawley; 12:30 p.m. CET

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