I’m laughing as I listen to NPR fawn over President Barack Obama’s speech at the Brandenburg Gate today. They are straining to compare his mediocre, self-referential and platitude-packed address with the stirring historic orations of President John F. Kennedy and President Ronald Reagan. At one point an NPR reporter claimed that Obama, like Kennedy and Reagan, had issued a “challenge” to Russia–by calling for a reduction in nuclear weapons. (The last, and very recent, reduction was achieved through lopsided cuts by the U.S.)
Obama’s message was a standard liberal theme–that substantive, or “positive,” freedom is what matters, and what the U.S. and other developed nations must focus on now that the world has achieved freedom from the oppression of communism. That new freedom includes climate change and fuel-efficient cars, alongside other left-wing causes. (The list of priorities for “Peace with Justice,” as Obama called it, sounded like the South African Constitution–a mix of broad guarantees of equality and utopian socioeconomic goals.)
The message was statist–but he felt compelled, or perhaps shamed, by history to wrap that message in a contrived defense of the individual: “Government exists to serve the individual, and not the way around.” (If Obama does believe that, he should resign from his own administration.) Overall, this was a weak speech–and not a well-delivered one, as even superfan Chris Matthews of MSNBC had to admit–though he blamed the sun. Placing Obama’s Berlin speech among those of Kennedy and Reagan requires major grade inflation.