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The Speech: First Thoughts

Barack Obama's just-completed speech in Berlin is sure to be analyzed ad nauseam for some time to come.

Below you'll find the Fix's first impressions of the speech. We reserve the right to update and amend these thoughts, but wanted to start the discussion.

Away we go!

* The speech had clear -- and intentional -- echoes of what, in our mind, is the strongest element of Obama's message: the time for change is now. "People of Berlin, people of the world, this is our moment," Obama declared in a pronouncement taken almost verbatim from Obama's speech at the Iowa Jefferson-Jackson Dinner late last year -- a speech that was turned into a powerful television ad by his campaign. Obama's candidacy is fueled by the idea -- unspoken but very real -- that a man and a moment have met, and the result could be the fundamental alteration of not just American politics but the way in which countries see their role in the global community. "We cannot afford to be divided," Obama warned.

* The Obama advance team did its homework. While Obama took some flak in the runup to the event for promoting it like a campaign rally, there was almost no evidence of a "rah rah" event during the speech itself. The crowd waved American flags -- not Obama campaign banners. Chants were kept to a minimum with only one "Yes We Can" chorus and one "O-bam-a" call each. (With such a large crowd, it was probably impossible to stamp out all evidence of partisanship or the fact that Germans, like most Europeans, are thrilled about the prospect of a president with any last name other than Bush.) Obama did his part to feed into the non-partisan atmosphere, using the opening moments of his speech to declare: "I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen -- a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world."

* Although Obama was careful to stay within the accepted practice of avoiding any criticism of the current Administration while traveling abroad, his address was larded with subtle and not so subtle suggestions about how his presidency would differ from that of George W. Bush. "No one nation, no matter how large or powerful, can defeat such challenges alone," Obama said at one point, addressing the threats posed to the world by nuclear weapons, terrorism and global warming. Speaking later about the need to address the worsening situation in Iraq Afghanistan, Obama intoned: "America cannot do this alone." That sort of internationalist approach was sure to be greeted fondly by his German audience. The larger question is how it will play stateside. After the past eight years of Bush policies, are American voters more supportive of the need for the country to be seen as a good member of the global community?

* It shouldn't be terribly surprising that Obama delivered a powerful speech on the world stage. After all, this is a guy whose candidacy was launched by his address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 and propelled at crucial times (particularly his address on race after the Rev. Wright scandal) by his oratorical abilities. Obama's gift for public speaking, however, should not take away from the degree of difficulty of the speech he just delivered. While there appears to be some early criticism of Obama's decision to re-use his "this is our moment" line, the Illinois senator seemed to generally dodge the various problems that the speech posed without breaking a sweat (although he did awkwardly wipe his brow at one point.) The speech was neither a dry foreign policy address nor a campaign-centric talk -- either of which would have left Obama open to criticism. It was serious without being stultifyingly boring and global in view and without being overly solicitous of Europe.

* The Fix was eager to learn which German phrase Obama would utter during the speech. And, it never came. Maybe his campaign was spooked by John F. Kennedy's "Ich Bin Ein Berliner" faux pas (or not?) during a speech more than four decades ago in Berlin.

By Chris Cillizza  |  July 24, 2008; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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