Obama Addresses U.S. Image Abroad
Correction July 25, 2008
This piece wrongly suggests that Presidents Kennedy and Reagan both spoke at the Berlin Wall. While they both visited the wall, President Kennedy gave his famous speech at city hall, Schoeneberger Rathaus, shortly after viewing the wall.
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The crowd that met Barack Obama in Berlin was bigger than the crowd that shows up for the Super Bowl. The media attention for Obama's foreign trip seemed almost as intense. Obama received dramatic attention abroad even as the presidential campaign appeared to tighten at home.
Remember that the race is all about winning the electoral votes of individual states. And as we'll hear in a moment, surveys in four key states show McCain improving his position. We begin in Berlin with NPR's Don Gonyea.
DON GONYEA: Massive crowds are nothing new for Barack Obama. At rallies during the primary season this year he pulled in 20,000 here, 30,000 there. One stop in Oregon topped 100,000. But those numbers were dwarfed by yesterday's event at Tiergarten Park.
Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): Thank you to the citizens of Berlin.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Sen. OBAMA: And thank you to the people of Germany.
GONYEA: The Obama campaign chose an iconic landmark as the backdrop to the speech to 226-foot-tall victory column built to commemorate 19th century war victories and featuring a striking gold winged statue at its top. Obama made reference to a pair of famous speeches by past U.S. presidents in this city -JFK and Ronald Reagan - both spoke at the Berlin Wall. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: President Kennedy did visit the Berlin Wall in the summer of 1963, but he gave his speech at City Hall, Schoeneberger Rathaus.]
Recognizing that this speech would be measured against those, Obama tried to downplay the political.
Sen. OBAMA: Tonight 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.
(Soundbite of cheering)
GONYEA: The focus of the speech was the transatlantic alliance and the need for the U.S. and Europe to rebuild the relationship that has frayed in recent years, bogged down by disputes ranging from the Iraq War to how to approach the problem of global warming.
Sen. OBAMA: Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe. No doubt there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more not less.
GONYEA: The candidate then called for greater European involvement in Afghanistan, a military mission that he says has been hurt because the Iraq war has taken away needed resources and attention. Obama says more troops are needed in Afghanistan.
Sen. OBAMA: For the people of Afghanistan and for our shared security, the work must be done. America can't do this alone.
GONYEA: The candidate also recalled the wall that once split Berlin in two. This is, he said, the city where the Cold War was born. Yesterday he asserted that terrorist extremists pose a new grave threat that must be confronted.
Sen. OBAMA: If we could win a battle of ideas against the communists, we can stand with the vast majority of Muslims who reject the extremism that leads to hate instead of hope.
GONYEA: At one point, Obama noted that America's image abroad has declined and that throughout history the U.S. has not always lived up to its own ideals.
Sen. OBAMA: We've made our share of mistakes and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions. But I also know how much I love America. I know that for more than two centuries we have strived at great costs and great sacrifice to form a more perfect union, to seek with other nations, a more hopeful world.
GONYEA: As Obama spoke, audience members waved hundreds and hundreds of American flags overhead - an unusual sight in a Western European capital where criticism of the U.S. is quick to come. Twenty-eight-year-old Berlin resident George Osugi(ph) grew up in Nigeria. He stood about 200 feet from the stage. He said that if Obama wins the White House, it will force the rest of the world to rethink how it sees America.
Mr. GEORGE OSUGI (Berlin Resident): Going to change the world, especially that a black man's there. Show the world that America is for good and not for what the other people think they are.
GONYEA: The question for Obama, though, is what impact a week like this one on the road in Iraq, Afghanistan, in the Middle East and Europe will have on voters back home. Those voters were every bit the target audience yesterday just as were the 200,000 who came out on a midsummer day at a park in Germany.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Berlin.
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