Sunday, May 10, 2009

Germans give Obama high marks

By DeWayne Wickham

BERLIN—It didn't take long for me to understand why Mo Asumang gives Barack Obama such a high grade for his first 100 days in the Oval Office: The German filmmaker and U.S. president are kindred souls.

Like Obama, Asumang, 45, was born to a white mother and black African father. Each was also were raised largely by a doting, white grandmother. And each, eventually, undertook a journey of self-discovery. Obama's was chronicled in his best-selling 2004 book, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race of Inheritance.” Asumang's awakening came in the form of a 2007 documentary, “Roots Germania,” in which she set out to confront a Neo-Nazi who threatened her life. But instead, she ended up exploring her dual identities.

"I think he has been a great president for America, and the world," she said of Obama. "I see myself in him; through all the things I had to manage while growing up in Germany, all these things about integration, about communicating with people, about identity — all these issues must have been his issues, too. ... So I know when he talks about these things, he's not reading them in books or seeing them on television. I know these things are in his heart."

Not since John Kennedy came here at the height of the Cold War and proclaimed himself a Berliner has a U.S. president been so revered in Germany. Obama is especially popular among this country's small but culturally influential population of people of African descent. During his 1963 visit, Kennedy said: “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Now, Asumang said, blacks in Germany claim a linkage to America's first black president with these words: "Wir sind präsident" — we are president.

Of course, if Obama's popularity in a nation not easily moved to adulation of foreign leaders was just a matter of race pride, his first 100 days in the White House might be seen differently. But he is by far the most popular political leader on either side of the Atlantic. An average of about 80% of the people in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Britain and the United States have a good opinion of Obama, according to a recent poll by Harris Interactive.
That reality minimizes the judgments political commentators will make about the early days of Obama's presidency — and shows that his race, for many people, is far less important than his ability to inspire people.

"For many of us, it was that he said, 'I'll try my best and I will make some mistakes.' He gave us a sense of a totally different American president,' " said Dagmar Meister, a white, 48-year-old artist who lives with her husband and daughter in the Nikolaiviertel, the historic center of Berlin. "Nobody expects that he will change things in just 100 days, but we feel he is opening doors to change," Meister said Sunday afternoon as she sat at an outdoor restaurant table.

For Meister, one opening came during the recent meeting of the Group of 20 economic powers, when Obama talked about his desire for a nuclear-free world. "He dares to say something like this (in) a way that makes it sound realistic," she said. "So he is not just good for the United States; he is good for the whole world."

That's great praise — and a daunting challenge. Now, Obama's biggest challenge from at home and abroad will be to make good on his presidency's promise of good things to come..

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