Saturday, July 19, 2008
Obama and the Brandenburg Gate
"Mr Putin, put back that wall!"
Now that Barack Obama has begun his "Grande Tour" beginning in Afghanistan, accompanied by a planeload of what seems the entire American news media (already, the BBC is complaining that there is no room for them), a flap has arisen over the senator's planned stop in Berlin. The flap centers around that city's most famous landmark, the Brandenburg Gate.
The Brandenburg Gate is a victory column erected long ago in an age when Germany used to win wars. On January 30, 1933, thousands marched through the gate on their way past the Chancellery to salute Hitler on his appointment as Chancellor. In the post-war era, it straddled the line between East and West Berlin, sitting in "no-man's land". It also served as a backdrop for the visits of Presidents Kennedy and Reagan during the Cold War. Reagan stood in front of the gate when he stated, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall." (Kennedy's "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech was actually given at another location in West Berlin.)
Suffice to say, a speaking appearance by Obama at the Brandenburg Gate would have tremendous symbolic meaning. Thus, it was reported this week that the Obama campaign was involved in negotiations with Berlin's Mayor, Klaus Wowereit, to stage just such a speaking appearance. That unleashed some proper criticism from observers who characterized the choice of location as presumptuous. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was not keen on the idea since it smacked to her of a campaign ploy, which it was.
Besides, what would he say? Put the wall back up?
So now, it appears in light of reactions that Obama has scrubbed the idea. One of his (reportedly 300) foreign policy aides, Denis McDonough, has now told the press that Obama himself had nixed the idea of the Brandenburg Gate. Said Mr McDonough, "He didn't think it made sense for him to speak at the Brandenburg Gate, which he thought would be too PRESUMPTUOUS." (caps mine).
Presumptuous indeed. But no more presumptuous that Obama's desire to move his convention acceptance speech to Denver's Investco Field, with its 75,000 seating capacity plus all those adoring young fans that they can flood the field with-kind of like they do at the Superbowl halftime shows.
Nevertheless, Obama can console himself with the knowledge that the American news media is doing its part to help make this trip what is, in effect, a campaign promotion. During the European phase, adoring Europeans will show the American public how much they want this man to be our next president.
Then, when the senator returns home in triumph from his "Grande Tour", he can choose an American venue for his next big speech-Gettysburg, perhaps.