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November 8, 2012 |  Print  Your Opinion  

Breakfast with the President

Alexander M Battaglia: The Atlantic Initiative and the Heinrich-Böll Foundation organized a breakfast in Berlin to watch the US election results, concession and victory speeches. The majority of the 300 mostly young people seemed overjoyed that Barack Obama had won, yet looked upon the next four years with a weary and restrained hope.

Waking up at 5:40 AM I quickly raced out of bed, booted up my desktop computer, and loaded up the BBC News' website. I was greeted by an image of people ecstatically celebrating accompanied by an overly large and bolded caption reading, "Obama re-elected as US president," With only this knowledge in mind and knowing none of the finer details, I made my way over to the Heinrich Böll Foundation's "Countdown zum Weißen Haus": an event being jointly held with the Atlantic Initiative, the publisher of atlantic-community.org.

Upon entering the building at around 7:00 AM I was immediately surprised to see the amount of people that had come out for the event. There were easily more than 100 people in attendance. So that everyone present could watch the election's end unfold live, a direct feed with the NBC News broadcast was established and projected onto a rather large screen set up in the Foyer of the building. The atmosphere in the room was telling; people were congratulating each other, exclaiming their satisfaction with the result, and even gleefully waving tiny American flags. Some people had stayed even up the entire night to follow the reports as they came in live. Appropriately, coffee and black tea were served.

To get a sense of how it was on the ground in the USA an internet video call was made via Skype to Klaus Linsenmeier, the Executive Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation North America. Linsenmeier gave the audience his breakdown of the election results and answered a number of questions posed to him. During the Q&A three very poignant remarks were made by Linsenmeier. Namely, that the election was won and debated in regards to domestic political issues (not international ones), that this fierce debate left a gap which could only be filled by bipartisan measures, and lastly that other important issues such as same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana could prove to be the more interesting outcomes from the day.

Obama calls upon hope

With the number of attendees now surpassing 200, the video chat ended as Barack Obama made his way on stage to give his victory speech. Without delving too much into the content of the speech itself, one could be certain, upon viewing the onlookers, that the speech was a crowd pleaser. So much so that a number of statements from the President garnered applause from the audience (the mention of the global climate change for example). Even though this was overwhelmingly the dominant response, there were a number moments at which some in the audience cringed or commented. Acute examples being when the president mentioned the supremacy of US military might or as he rounded off the speech praising American exceptionalism and proclaiming multiple times "God bless America." A curious note to mention is that the level enthusiasm being displayed by the audience in Chicago was bewildering to some in attendance. As a man sitting behind me opined, it all came off as a little "over the top."

Soured expectations

The general reaction to the morning's events could be said to be one of sober and realistic elation. Everyone seemed overjoyed that Mr. Romney had not won, yet looked upon the next four years with a weary and restrained hope. When questioned more specifically about issues of transatlantic relations, people had little positive to say. Instead they referenced old disappointments and past failures such as the climat conference in Copenhagen. The last four years had apparently taken its toll on the hopeful: they did not expect much, if any, positive change in US-European relations. One person commented that they hoped to see the US stance on global climate change to gradually align with European expectations, but shortly thereafter admitted that this would most likely never come to be. Clearly, the election's outcome, the eloquence of the President's speech, and the rock star like stage presence did not generate a change of expectations for what one observer called "typical" US foreign policy.

As I left I noticed that the general excitement had begun to wind down as the spectacle had now ended. People were returning to their daily routine content with the fact that an unfavorable outcome had been avoided, but seemingly lacking the optimism for a starkly different future.

Alexander Battaglia is a graduate of the American University in Washington D.C. An event report in German by Frank Leberecht is on the Atlantic Initiative's website.

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Tags: | election | Barack Obama | Event | Boell |
 
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