Obama: 4 centuries of inspiration

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In his speech last Thursday in Berlin, Barack Obama borrowed tropes and imagery from the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, websites and blogs--and now the New York Times--have noted.

In today's Times editors found no fewer than five parallels from Shakespeare to Lincoln to FDR, to JFK and Ronald Reagan. The editors could have included Tom Paine, too, as we'll see.


Shakespeare:"Friends, Romans, Countrymen."

Obama:"I come to Berlin as so many of my countrymen have come before."


Lincoln:"The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

Obama:"Now the world will watch and remember what we do here - what we do with this moment."

Franklin Roosevelt first uttered the phrase"the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" during his 1933 inaugural address and later during World War II spoke of the four freedoms. Obama appeared to channel Roosevelt:"What has always united us - what has always driven our people - what drew my father to America's shores - is a set of ideals that speak to aspirations shared by all people: that we can live free from fear and free from want; that we can speak our minds and assemble with whomever we choose and worship as we please."

JFK famously talked about the torch of freedom being handed to a new generation. Obama said:"It is in pursuit of these aspirations that a new generation - our generation - must make our mark on the world."

Borrowing from Reagan was inevitable given that the speech was originally planned to be delivered from the Brandenburg Gate. Reagan:"Tear don this wall, Mr. Gorbachev." Obama:" When you, the German people, tore down that wall - a wall that divided East and West; freedom and tyranny; fear and hope - walls came tumbling down around the world."

Finally, there was the allusion to Tom Paine."Tonight," said Obama,"I speak to you not as a candidate for President, but as a citizen - a proud citizen of the United States, and a fellow citizen of the world." Paine famously called himself a" citizen of the world."

Related Links

  • Question for KSFO's Sussman: Did Reagan's self-description as a" citizen ... of the world" make him the Antichrist, too? (Media Matters/Liberal Watchdog)

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    More Comments:

    Randll Reese Besch - 8/1/2008

    It is common and quiet frankly I don't think it would be as benefitial as you think it is. Should it be done by everyone or just any speaker with a forum?

    Clare Lois Spark - 7/30/2008

    Rather than pretending to Europeans that these eloquent phrases were of his own invention, he might have prefaced the speech with the names of all his sources: "You may not be familiar with the great leaders of a new and experimental country struggling against the odds: I speak of..... Now that would have been the honorable thing to do.