If you didn’t watch it live, or haven’t already seen it, I’ll warn you, it’s not a quick 90 seconds. But it is the kind of speech we haven’t heard a President – or anyone else, for that matter – make in at least eight years, probably a lot longer.
Obama had to be cognizant of standing in the shadow of both JFK’s famous “I Am A Donut” speech (LOL), and Reagan’s speech from the Brandenburg gate, when he thought about what he wanted to say in this speech. But – if you listen to Obama’s speech today – you will find not only self-assured echoes of both those speeches, but also ventures into territory uncharted by either one. Obama talked with seriousness and specificity about the crisis in Darfur, the necessity of global awareness and a sense of global citizenship. He talked of the need to defeat the ideology of extremism, which is the true wellspring of terrorism and hatred, and is not owned by any one race, ideology or country.
And above all, the part which took my breath away, was when Obama referenced a President greater than either of the two I’ve already mentioned, when he actually used the phrase “shared sacrifice.” Shared sacrifice. What a concept. For the last six years, our military has borne literally the entire (visible) burden of the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, to the shame of the rest of us. Some of us have sent money to veterans organizations, or care packages overseas. Some have helped out at home. But there’s been no national mandate to do so, and most of us don’t even know where to turn to do such things. In 1941, a nation which was as shocked by the attacks on Pearl Harbor as we were on September 11, 2001 by the attacks on New York and Washington, tuned in to hear FDR’s fireside chat of December 9, and heard him utter those famous words “shared sacrifice.”
And what, across the gulf of sixty-five years, did our current President advocate, when the new and equally devastating moment of national crisis was upon us on September 11, 2001? Did he urge sacrifice? Perseverance? Blood, toil, tears and sweat? No. George W. Bush, President #43 of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of its armed forces which he sent into harm’s way in both Afghanistan and Iraq as a response to 9/11, told the rest of us non-military folk to go shopping (the exact quote was: “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy.”).
After hearing Barack Obama’s speech at Victory Column, Tiergarten Square, Berlin today, I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, we might be on the verge of putting the grown-ups back in charge again – just in time.