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With Eye On U.S. Audience, Obama Speaks In Berlin


Among those watching Barack Obama's speech today was NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr. He says comparisons to John F. Kennedy's famous Berlin speech missed the point.

DANIEL SCHORR: The young American politician flies to Berlin, makes an inspiring speech and is hailed by a massive crowd in a public square - but that's about as far as the resemblance goes.

President Kennedy spoke in a beleaguered city, an island in a communist sea menaced by a Stalin blockade in 1948 and a Khrushchev-approved wall in 1961, and he threw a protective American cloak around the jittery population. And yet, speaking in the prosperous capital of a reunified Germany, Obama managed to capture some of the spirit of those dramatic times as he summon today's Berliners to join in bringing down the walls that separate peoples. It was a lofty speech in which, like Kennedy, he identified himself with Berlin.

Obama was addressing Germans, but he was obviously playing to the gallery back home that could see him now striding a world stage. Obama's tour has little in common with the traditional candidate's mandatory junket to the three I's - Italy, Ireland and Israel - in order to curry favor and votes from relatives in the United States.

Senator Obama choosing and evocative backdrop, perhaps not as striking as President Reagan on the Normandy beachheads, is primarily involved in burnishing his foreign policy credentials about which Senator McCain has sought to make an issue.

Obama's task is defined in a Washington Post/ABC News poll that was issued last week. Voters asked who is better able to run the country chose Senator Obama 50 to 42 percent. But when the question was, who is better able to manage foreign policy, 72 percent believed McCain can handle it and only 56 percent said Obama is up to the task.

There is no way of telling what impression Obama has made on the foreign leaders he's met, however briefly, on this trip. The European press has been generally favorable to the Democratic standard bearer. And after his resounding Berlin speech, Obama is likely to be well received in Britain and France. It could hardly be otherwise, given the unpopularity of President Bush abroad and Obama's exploitation of that fact to promise a new and less unilateralist relationship with friends and antagonists around the world.

Obama's theme of change has resounded well in most of these countries, which have let it be known that they would favor a lot of change. But for the moment, Obama's concentration is on persuading Americans that he's the one who can do it.

This is Daniel Schorr. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Daniel Schorr
Daniel Schorr passed away on Friday, July 23, 2010. See an obituary, photo gallery and an archive of Schorr's commentaries for NPR.