Obama and the Art of Plain Speaking

It was another one of those days when we looked enviously across the Atlantic at our colleagues in the United States. They were beside themselves with enthusiasm over their president and his ability to read his countrymen the riot act and inoculate them with a healthy dose of confidence all at the same time; to single handedly get them behind him without trying to hide the fact that they all would have to put their shoulders to the wheel in the coming years just to get ahead. The Washington Post called his keynote speech admirable. The New York Times said it was a “compelling vision.” CNN took a snap poll of Americans and reported that 85 percent of those surveyed said they were now more confident in the future than they were previously. Eighty-five percent!

That’s a mystery to us, and not only because of the quality of our political leaders. We’re always much better at perennially complaining than at celebrating. On the other hand, the chasm between Barack Obama and Angela Merkel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier or yesterday’s courageous Horst Seehofer is so great that it’s enough to get one thinking. Is there any real passion here? Is there any political impetus? Any power of persuasion? The ability to get people to follow along, even if they’re led down uncomfortable paths?

Pussy-footing around can sometimes be very successful, but during times when ideologies falter, when we’re listening to speeches delivered at the Passau Ash Wednesday convention (Trans. Note: a political satire event at which the above mentioned Horst Seehofer courageously appeared this year) and aren’t sure whether we’re at a Christian Social Union event or at a delegate’s meeting of the Party of Democratic Socialism – during such times people wouldn’t mind it if everything were a bit more clearly defined.

How would it be here at home, for example, if we started putting aside all rhetorical confines and just used plain language? About the consequences and the implications of the economic nose-dive and the various bailout plans and budget proposals? What if we got serious about letting people know what the future holds? That the money that’s being so cheerfully handed out to everyone these days will eventually have to be paid back? That nothing will be solved by increasing school class sizes by one student or raising the value added tax by one percent? That it also won’t help by stopping progress or offering a reward for junking your old car? That it won’t be possible to constantly repair that which gets broken, spending billions upon billions?

In our compromise-republic, there will have to be basic cuts in dearly cherished habits, that is to say, in government services. Or, alternatively, in our “system” which won’t be a bed of roses by any stretch of the imagination, either. That’s what they should be telling us, now, even before the primary elections. That’s a matter of credibility, not of rhetoric.

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