Obama Says Walls Must Come Down
Friday, July 25, 2008
BERLIN, July 24 -- Addressing a huge throng in the middle of this once-divided city, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Thursday implored Americans and Europeans to renew the partnership that once defeated communism to address 21st-century threats that he said put the security of all nations at risk.
Obama invoked the sweep of history over the last half of the 20th century, pointing to Berlin as a symbol of what cooperation in the transatlantic alliance can do. "People of the world: Look at Berlin, where a wall came down, a continent came together, and history proved that there is no challenge too great for a world that stands as one," he said.
Declaring himself a "proud citizen of the United States and a fellow citizen of the world," Obama told the audience that the world can afford for neither America nor Europe to turn inward. "Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice," he said. "It is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity."
Obama spoke near the base of the Victory Column in Tiergarten Park before a crowd estimated at 200,000 -- the largest of his presidential campaign. This was the only big public event of his week-long overseas tour, and the scene and stagecraft were as much -- or more -- the story of the day as his words.
The Democratic candidate has generated enormous enthusiasm in Europe, in part because many here see him as an antidote to President Bush, during whose presidency America's image and reputation abroad have declined. Obama's implicit message to the audience back home was that he is the candidate of change and better positioned than rival John McCain to help restore American prestige around the globe.
McCain's campaign fired back at Obama, with an adviser declaring that the Democrat had taken a "premature victory lap" with his events in Europe. McCain, who made a campaign appearance at a German restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, said, "I'd love to give a speech in Germany . . . a political speech or a speech that maybe the German people would be interested in. But I would much prefer to do it as president of the United States rather than as a candidate for the office of the presidency."
Later, at an event with Lance Armstrong celebrating the Tour de France champion's Livestrong foundation, McCain again bashed what he has decried as the media's fawning treatment of Obama.
"You have billed this event as a presidential town hall, and I sincerely hope that the next president is here today," he said at the event in Columbus. "My opponent, of course, is traveling in Europe, and tomorrow his tour takes him to France. In a scene Lance would recognize, a throng of adoring fans awaits Senator Obama in Paris -- and that's just the American press."
In his speech, Obama summoned memories of the Berlin Airlift that saved this city 60 years ago and the crumbling of the Berlin Wall that signaled the end of Soviet tyranny and the Cold War to call for a reinvigorated alliance. The United States and Europe, he said, should lead the fight to "defeat terror and dry up the well of extremism that supports it," secure the world's loose nuclear weapons, confront the dangers of climate change and win the war of ideas with Islamic extremists.
"The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand," Obama said. "The walls between the countries with the most and those with the least cannot stand. The walls between races and tribes, natives and immigrants, Christian and Muslim and Jew cannot stand. These now are the walls we must tear down."
Obama was introduced to a thunderous ovation at about 7:15 p.m. and strode around the Victory Column onto a long, blue walkway that led to a lectern at the edge of the crowd. He waved, smiled, returned the applause and immediately plunged into his speech, which was broadly thematic without producing any notable policy changes.
The speech was sober and serious, but the atmosphere in the park was festive in the hours leading up to Obama's arrival. Spectators were squeezed tightly together near the stage from which Obama spoke but the crowd stretched far down the park. In the distance, but well within the wide lens of the cameras, stood the Brandenburg Gate, one of the city's most recognizable landmarks.