President Obama brought back ‘hope and change’ this summer — and exported it to Estonia


President Barack Obama speaks during a joint news conference with Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. EPA/VALDA KALNINA

TALLINN, ESTONIA – President Obama resurrected his campaign rhetoric of hope, change and fighting against cynicism during speeches from Massachusetts to California this summer. This week, he took that talk abroad.

In a speech to at the Nordea Concert Hall here Wednesday, Obama lambasted the actions of Russia and separatists in Ukraine that “evoke dark tactics from Europe’s past that ought to be consigned to history,” including the shooting down of a passenger airliner in July and “violence that seems intractable.”

And he urged the young people of Estonia to reject pessimism.

“Don’t ever give in to that cynicism,” Obama said. “Don’t ever lose the idealism and optimism that is at the root of all great change.  Don’t ever lose the faith that says—if we want it, if we work for it, if we stand together—the future can be different; tomorrow can be better.  After all, the only reason we’re here today—in a free and democratic Estonia—is because the Estonian people never gave up.”

Obama’s change in tone this year has been noticeable domestically, where he spent the summer crisscrossing the country. In an attempt to bolster his populist bona fides, Obama ate a lot of hamburgers, played pool and sipped beer, and met with people who had written him letters about their lives.

This trip is a counterpoint to Obama’s summer of the American everyman. The president spent the day in this city on the shores of the Baltic Sea filled with medieval walls and cobblestone streets in high-level meetings with Estonian officials, including its president, and the presidents of Latvia and Lithuania.

This time, the president's message of optimism winning out over skepticism, doled out at a park in Denver, theaters in Austin and Kansas City and a high school graduation in Worcester, Mass., was repeated at a modern, oak-paneled concert hall thousands of miles from the United States.

Domestically, Obama’s message of hope is tailored to the economy. Wednesday Organizing for Action, a non-profit that sprung from Obama's campaign, launched its latest campaign Wednesday, with the email subject line, "refuse to be cynical." Overseas Wednesday, it came in the context of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, delivered in a former Soviet republic.

“The Baltics show the world what’s possible when free peoples come together for the change they seek.  And in that great contest of ideas—between freedom and authoritarianism, between liberty and oppression—your success proves, like that human chain 25 years ago, that our way will always be stronger,” Obama said.

“The currents of history ebb and flow, but over time they flow toward freedom—more people, in every corner of the earth, standing up and reaching to claim those rights that are universal.  That’s why, in the end, our ideals are stronger,” Obama said. “That’s why our ideals will win.”

Obama’s domestic speeches that hinge on talk of hope and change also have a bogeyman. Domestically, it is congressional Republicans. Here in Estonia, it was Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama’s mere presence on Russia’s doorstep was a rebuke of Putin, and Obama repeatedly castigated Russia and its leader.

“Repeatedly, President Putin has ignored the opportunity to resolves the crisis in Ukraine diplomatically,” Obama said, sparking U.S. and European  Union sanctions on the country. “In short, Russia’s actions in Ukraine are weakening Russia and hurting the Russian people. It doesn’t have to be this way.”

The main purpose for Obama’s trip here ahead of the NATO summit in Wales is to underscore the commitment by NATO countries, known as Article 5, for the collective defense of its members.

“We’ll be here for Estonia. We’ll be here for Latvia. We’ll be here for Lithuania.  You lost your independence once before,” Obama said. “With NATO, you’ll never lose it again.”

 

 

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.
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