Citizens of the World

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

What a surprising burst of hope I felt, looking at the photo in the newspaper the next day: Barack Obama stands before 200,000 Berliners and addresses them as a “fellow citizen of the world.”

It may be premature, but I’m announcing it anyway: We’ve repealed the Bush Doctrine. There’s no turning back.

Hope has the staying power of fireworks, of course. Oooh, ahhh, and it’s over. But, “This mesh of private vision and historical change is mysterious,” writes Deepak Chopra. Obama is a politician with mostly short-term calculations to make, including how to align himself with the economic interests of oil and war and project enough reckless militarism to claim a share of the fear vote.

But the surge of history his campaign summons contradicts all that. At last America and the world — and in some ways the election may mean more to those beyond our borders than to those complacently, smugly, fearfully within them — have a candidate who is awake, not dead, to the vision and passionate global desire for . . . peace. And by this term I do not mean the false, hellish “peace” wrested violently, and temporarily, by one part of the world from another.

I mean the peace we haven’t built yet, the peace that leaves no one out, the peace that begins with a calm heart and ends in the dissolution of international enmity. I mean the peace that dehumanizes no one, resists mass hypnosis and sees through every shallow, short-sighted “us vs. them” scenario ever whipped up in the name of fear-drenched triumphalism. In a throw-away world poisoned with hatred and stockpiled with WMD, I mean the peace we must create for our own survival. This is the peace that Obama can articulate with clarity and, by God (is it possible?), courage:

“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. . . .

“The greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another. The walls between old allies on either side of the Atlantic cannot stand. 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. . . .

“This is the moment when we must come together to save this planet.”

This is why 200,000 Berliners turned out to see Obama and why he draws enormous crowds wherever he goes — why “Obamamania” is a term at all, conjuring as it does the “Beatlemania” of 40-plus years ago that also, so it turns out, announced a shift in human consciousness.

“People of Berlin — people of the world — this is our moment. This is our time. . . . With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.”

This time the engine for change is a presidential campaign, not a rock tour, which is surely a sign that the vision is maturing.

I believe in “Obamamania” more than I believe in Obama himself. That is to say, I believe with so many others in the vision and the moment, and long to seize it, even as I retain caution and skepticism about the politics to which they are attached. Cheering a candidate’s stump speech is one thing, but the real work of “remaking the world” will not be easy or welcomed by the powers that be.

The political forces lined up against Obama are enormous and increasingly desperate. Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., for instance, have begun investigating one manifestation of the vote fraud to come: the ruthless Republican-sponsored purging of thousands and thousands of registered voters in the poorest (often mortgage-crisis-devastated) regions of swing states such as Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and Nevada. Voters in low-income areas, of course, trend strongly Democratic and are a big part of Obama’s natural base.

But the calculations of the Obama campaign itself are just as troubling. In his Berlin speech, he went out of his way to flaunt his insight-free policy on terrorism, calling (to no applause) for a greater U.S.-NATO presence in Afghanistan, and claiming that “the Afghan people need our troops and your troops . . . to help them rebuild their nation.” Never mind that civilian casualties are on the rise, with NATO air strikes killing more civilians than the Taliban.

But that’s politics, right? Perhaps Obama does the best he can to keep it leashed. I try to keep it in perspective, knowing that the world will demilitarize slowly at best, and clumsily, but that it will happen. The citizens of the world have been summoned. History has a job for us, and electing a president is only the beginning.