Monday, July 21, 2008

A Clanging Symbol

Poor Barack Obama. He just wanted a nice quiet pre-victory trip to Europe, where some new photo-ops could be carefully orchestrated to showcase his leadership posture, that noble head-toss in the face of Destiny, that solemn pose of excruciating thoughtfulness, made all the more poignant, of course, by some exquisite and meaningful scenery.

But it hasn't been that easy:

Obama is planning to address what organizers expect will be huge crowds at the Siegessäule, or Victory Column, which is located in the center of a long and busy intersection that straddles the lush, public Tiergarten gardens and stretches up to the Brandenburg Gate.

The choice of site was made after Chancellor Angela Merkel made it known to Obama's team that she did not approve of him campaigning at the Brandenburg Gate, both the symbol of the Cold War that divided the two Germanys and later, in 1989, the symbol of German reunification. Other conservative politicians said Obama had no business choosing a site before he was even elected president and using it for election purposes.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, in contrast, said he would welcome Obama speaking there.

After days of back and forth between the chancellery and the Obama campaign, the Victory Column was selected.

But Andreas Schockenhoff, deputy leader of the conservative bloc in Parliament, said Sunday that the choice of the Victory Column, also known as the Golden Angel, was an "unhappy symbol" since it represented so much of Germany's militaristic past.

Rainer Brüderle, deputy leader of the opposition Free Democrats, said Obama's advisers had little idea of the historical significance of the Victory Column. "It was the symbol of German superiority over Denmark, Austria and France," Brüderle told the newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

Not only are the Germans beginning to dislike the Obama campaign's rather transparent opportunism, which is as clunky as some of the photo-ops Bill Clinton arranged during his presidency, but add the insult of the audacity not of hope but of premature celebration, but last week Charles Krauthammer penned this exquisite evisceration on the subject (Excerpt:)
Who is Obama representing? And what exactly has he done in his lifetime to merit appropriating the Brandenburg Gate as a campaign prop? What was his role in the fight against communism, the liberation of Eastern Europe, the creation of what George Bush 41 — who presided over the fall of the Berlin Wall but modestly declined to go there for a victory lap — called “a Europe whole and free”?

Does Obama not see the incongruity? It’s as if a German pol took a campaign trip to America and demanded the Statue of Liberty as a venue for a campaign speech. (The Germans have now gently nudged Obama into looking at other venues.)

Americans are beginning to notice Obama’s elevated opinion of himself. There’s nothing new about narcissism in politics. Every senator looks in the mirror and sees a president. Nonetheless, has there ever been a presidential nominee with a wider gap between his estimation of himself and the sum total of his lifetime achievements?

Obama is a three-year senator without a single important legislative achievement to his name, a former Illinois state senator who voted “present” nearly 130 times. As president of the Harvard Law Review, as law professor and as legislator, has he ever produced a single notable piece of scholarship? Written a single memorable article? His most memorable work is a biography of his favorite subject: himself.
There's nothing wrong, of course, with the savvy use of symbols in one's presidential campaign. There is a problem, however, with the appropriation of symbols which do not even remotely connect to a person in terms of his achievements, successes, or even identity. The problem becomes acute when people start to pay attention to the disparity between one's more grandiloquent public gestures and one's relatively low level of experience or accomplishments.


Irenaeus said...

O je. I was so angry to see that he was going to go traipsing through the Fatherland, and that he'd have the audacity(!) to speak at the Brandenburg Gate. The Victory Column upsets me just as much, because it's still right in the middle of everything, and because the B. Gate is behind it a ways. The Gate will be seen.

Dark thoughts about this guy, I have. St Francis of Assisi, ora pro me...

freddy said...

Don't worry -- he'll only impress the elites, anyway, and they'd be impressed if he blew his nose. Sadly, most who view the news clips won't know where he's speaking from or any significance. Just that he's somewhere where they have "old" and "pretty" monuments & buildings.