Monday, April 07, 2008
Obama-land in Deutschland!
Hello Meltingpot readers. Today we have a guest blogger reporting for us all the way from Germany.
My friend, Rose-Anne is a journalist living with her German husband and three little boys in Berlin. A Haitian-American raised in New York and Columbia, Maryland, she's always tuned in to Meltingpot issues. When she told me that Germans love Barack Obama, I asked her to tell me more. And this is what she wrote.
If the German vote counted, Barack Obama would very likely be the next US president. A recent poll here showed that 74% of Germans would vote for him over Hilary Clinton as a presidential candidate. And it’s no wonder, because the German media has done everything but officially endorse Obama.
Obama has been likened to John F. Kennedy, which, even over forty years after Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech, is a rare honor. Kennedy still has Beatles-like status here. There have also been comparisons to Martin Luther King’s charisma, eloquence and vision. King is not only an American icon— I’ve met 12 year-olds here who know who MLK is.
German Financial Times columnist, Peter Ehrlich, has credited Obama for
“bringing passion back into US politics." A Social Democrat (one of Germany’s ruling coalition parties), Karsten Voigt, said “Germany is definitely Obama-Land. He’s young, dynamic and perceived as more of a candidate for a movement than a political party, a movement for change.”
Obama’s popularity here confirms what I’ve slowly started to understand as an American who once always had race on the mind—that it’s not all about race here. Don’t get me wrong, Germany certainly has its share of problems with integration and those pesky neo-Nazis that the government has tried (as much as the constitution here allows) to thwart. But for Germans, the differences in culture and class—or maybe I should say, the similarities in culture in class— stand out far more than those of color. As a Black, Haitian-American in Germany, I might very well have it easier than a blond, blue-eyed Turk. And I can no longer count how many times I’ve said hello or nodded to an African brother or sister on the street, only to be ignored or looked back at in bewilderment. Here, connecting to people sometimes goes way deeper than skin color.
What it is all about in German politics, is cojones(regardless of sex) and credibility. German voters can quickly spot “squeaky-clean” hypocrites who stand behind a façade of piety and conventionalism. That’s why few politicians here even try to play conventional morality games. Berlin’s mayor, for example, grew more popular when he came out right away and said, “I’m gay. That’s a good thing.”
Germans also don’t believe religion belongs in politics. You’ll never hear Chancellor Angela Merkel say “God bless Germany,” because she doesn’t need to. Germans are not God-fearing in their politics. Here, Obama’s association with Reverend Wright wouldn’t be as much as a scandal as would the attempt to demonize him based on the beliefs of someone he knows. I don’t even know if the chancellor goes to church, to be quite honest. Good Lord, she might even be an atheist!
The lack of a religious/moral backdrop in German politics is one of the reasons you’ll find virtually no sex scandals here. Bill Clinton’s impeachment for his extracurricular activities with Monica Lewinsky was widely met with comments like, “This is a political issue? A president can be impeached for this?” The Spitzer scandal would also have been a bust—prostitution here is legal. In fact, pervasive German stereotypes of Americans are that we’re prudish; hypocritically moral (read one Republican sex scandal after the next) and that we don’t respect public figures’ privacy.
But for all their progressivism, Germans are notoriously resistant to change; which, is why Obama’s popularity here is a phenomenon. Obama’s fame signals that Germans, deep down, want charismatic personalities to convince them that change is good and that it shouldn’t cause people to fear looking forward (although any future without Bush seems to be a welcome one for Europeans as a whole). Obama’s brilliant speech, “A More Perfect Union,” is not only a speech for America. A call for universality, for change and common dreams of all people, is exactly what has made Obama a hero abroad.
Thank you to Rose-Anne Clermont for contributing to the Meltingpot and for giving us a peek into another part of the world. To read more fascinating stories written by Rose-Anne, visit The WIP.