Obama in Berlin

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There are times when all a president of the United States must want to do is to get away from it all. Far away. An ocean away. Not just for a weekend at Camp David or a fundraiser in San Francisco. But off to some place where it really doesn't matter what he's talking about so long as it isn't anything relevant, at least not to his troubles or the country's. Yes, some place where people aren't concerned with American domestic politics and its presidential scandals. And if there isn't such a place any more in this internetted and globalized 24/7 blogosphere, it needs to be a place where POTUS can at least pretend nobody knows or cares about the trouble he's in at home.

. . .

It needs to be a place where he can tell himself all those cheering throngs in the great square or packed hall have turned out because he's a World Leader, a speaker of vision and eloquence who deserves the flowery introduction he's just received -- even if his press office had to write it.

. . .

Even a president of the United States, especially a president of the United States, needs a trip to some fantasy island of his choice when things at home get hard to take, and what he really wants to do is change the subject. Maybe someplace he associates with better times, when his administration was just a-borning and everything was bright and promising and bustin' out all over with prospects of Hope and Change -- someplace like Berlin, where they loved him at the start of his presidency. Heck, they loved him in Washington back then.

. . .

Yes, a little visit to Berlin would be perfect just now, travel-poster perfect. It would offset that bust of a G8 summit somewhere unpronounceable in Northern Ireland that our president had to attend the other day. Which produced all those dreary communiqués that communicated so little. Yes, he needed to go to Berlin, absolutely, and Jawohl! It must have been great fun being liked again.

. . .

Who could blame our president for taking a little side trip to see the Brandenburg Gate again and take a break from sordid reality? Except maybe the kind of spoilsports who wish he would tackle his problems at home head-on -- instead of pretending they don't exist, and that he really had nothing to with them, being only president of the United States. And, as such, only an innocent bystander. And not responsible for every misadventure his administration, silly thing, has gotten itself into. After all, he only heads it.

A president's most pressing need at such a time is to talk about something else, anything else, other than his administration's scandals. Like the weather, maybe.

. . .

This is scarcely the first time it has dawned on the country's chief executive that now would be the perfect time to get out of Dodge.

It was back in 1974, the year when Watergate finally boiled over, having gone from minor irritant to a full-blown crisis, that Richard Nixon decided to see the pyramids at last. So off he went to Cairo and points east to talk about ... well, I can't remember just what he talked about except that it had nothing to do with what he'd once dismissed as an overblown, second-rate burglary at some office complex in Washington called Watergate.

Think back to June of 1974. That would have been after President Nixon had declined to release those famous or rather infamous Watergate Tapes except in edited form, and even that turned out to be a bombshell. For even those limited, selected, and sanitized notes on his White House conversations with intimates revealed something of what Richard M. Nixon, aka Tricky Dick, was thinking in private -- never a pretty picture. Let's just say that those selected excerpts, strewn with expletive-deleted phrases and covered with a general coating of vulgarity, were less than elevating.

Worse, only top the first layer of varnish over this carefully posed portrait of Dorian Gray had been removed, and already it repulsed. Especially when everyone knew by then that more was to come, as layer after layer of this cover-up would be peeled back. All wanted to see what was underneath, and at the same time didn't want to see it. For back then there was still an aura of awe, even reverence, about the presidency of the United States, an aura it would never regain after that Watergate summer. The House Judiciary Committee had already begun impeachment hearings in May of that year and now....

Yes, now was the perfect time for that president to leave the country. Just what he said in Cairo is hard to remember now, but Americans still haven't forgotten Watergate. It was a watershed not just for Richard Nixon but for the American presidency.

Fast forward to June of 2013. This time an American president goes to Berlin, but it's scarcely John F. Kennedy speaking in June of 1963 ("Ich bin ein Berliner!") or Ronald Reagan in June of 1987. ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!")

Instead it's Barack Obama talking about, sure enough, the weather. Specifically, about Climate Change, the reigning secular theology of the age, complete with its own vision of the Apocalypse: famines, floods, vanishing coastlines, refugees from natural disasters ... the whole "Soylent Green" scenario. ("This is the future we must avert. This is the global threat of our time!")

At a time when the whole Middle East is threatened by a real calamity, by widening war and chaos, and a real refugee crisis is already upon us there, our president chose to spoke about, yes, the weather. Which must have been a nice change from not speaking of the succession of scandals on his watch back home.

No matter. All those congressional committees will be talking about those scandals all summer long -- the IRS' own enemies list, the administration's going after the press for doing its job, the bloody debacle that was Benghazi, and who knows what more to come. There'll be time enough to discuss all that. It's going to be a long, hot summer.

This stopover in Berlin has been just an intermission in the continuing drama he's trying to escape from back home. Working title: "Obama Agonistes."

Welcome home, Mr. President. You've been missed.

(Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. His e-mail address is pgreenberg@arkansasonline.com.)

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THE EDITORIAL BOARD


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

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