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Financial Times Deutschland, Germany

Waiting for the Obama Savior

Translated By Ron Argentati

July 18, 2008

Germany - Financial Times Deutschland - Original Article (German)

The Germans celebrate Obama as the man upon whom they pin their political hopes. But this enthusiasm doesn’t have much to do with democracy.

They will come in droves, the crowds. Whether U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama makes his appearance at the Victory Column, the Tempelhof Airport or in the polar bear cage of the Berlin Zoo, thousands, even hundreds of thousands of Germans will want to see him. Even in today’s Berlin, they’ve had experience with great masses of people.

Unlike public viewing on huge television screens or public concerts of all kinds, Obama euphoria has nothing to do with Pop. The U.S. senator whose greatest political accomplishment thus far consists of winning an internal party primary election is being awaited in Germany as a savior. Behind this lies not so much a hope for political change in the USA as an unsatisfied longing for charisma.

No one should fault him for wanting to take advantage of this sentiment because, as far as elections are concerned, every politician grabs the chance to project his own image as brilliantly as possible.

However, this question must be asked: how much political savvy do those who celebrate Obama, a man who hasn’t yet had to accept any great responsibilities, really have? Obama is often praised for rekindling enthusiasm in democracy in people due to his drawing power. But mass obeisance to a charismatic leader really has little to do with democracy. On the contrary, the sociologist Max Weber describes charismatic domination as a condition that gains no legitimacy either through elections or tradition. The Obama-hype is similar to the month-long dance around the iPhone, except that the Apple cell phone will still have to submit to field trials.

One of Obama’s central messages is his distance from The Establishment, from the usual political scheming, from the deals of the political class. This promise, one that is naturally impossible to separate from every-day presidential life, also falls on open ears in Europe. Surveys regularly show that people are tired of political squabbling and the cumbersome search for compromise. A presidential anti-politician like Horst Köhler draws his popularity from the fact that he can call for or reject reforms without responsibility for day-to-day politics.

But the daily minutiae where interests are addressed is precisely where the essence of democracy is to be found. As with fashionable new telephones, success isn’t achieved with a magic wand. When the hope is expressed that “someone like Obama” is needed on the German political scene, the wish should be savored with the greatest caution.



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