Barack Obama in Berlin today talked about tearing down walls that separate nations, just as John F. Kennedy did in 1963 and Ronald Reagan in 1987, but there were differences. JFK and Reagan wanted to break down the physical barrier that symbolized a Cold War. Obama was offering himself as the symbol of a new century without political, ideological or psychological walls between people.
"I don't look like the Americans who've previously spoken in this great city," he told a crowd of an estimated 200,000 Germans before recalling the common struggles during the Berlin Airlift and exhorting them to a comparable effort against terrorism, tyranny, nuclear weapons, poverty and AIDS and other threats to freedom today.
"Freedom is indivisible," JFK had said, "and when one man is enslaved, all are not free." Reagan had echoed him, proclaiming, "We in the West stand ready to cooperate with the East to promote true openness, to break down barriers that separate people, to create a safe, freer world."
Today, Obama acknowledged that "In Europe, the view that America is part of what has gone wrong in our world, rather than a force to help make it right, has become all too common. In America, there are voices that deride and deny the importance of Europe's role in our security and our future.
"Both views miss the truth--that Europeans today are bearing new burdens and taking more responsibility in critical parts of the world; and that just as American bases built in the last century still help to defend the security of this continent, so does our country still sacrifice greatly for freedom around the globe."
As the potential next American President, who in earlier times was considered the Leader of the Free World, Obama offered his prescription for a common future:
"Yes, there have been differences between America and Europe. No doubt, there will be differences in the future. But the burdens of global citizenship continue to bind us together. A change of leadership in Washington will not lift this burden. In this new century, Americans and Europeans alike will be required to do more--not less.
"Partnership and cooperation among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity.
"That is why the greatest danger of all is to allow new walls to divide us from one another."
In the coming months, the Presidential campaign will be a crucial test of how willing Americans are to break down our own long-standing barriers between people.