"Tear Down That Way of Thinking!"

By Al Giordano


Avi Zenilman at Politico notes that the German daily "Der Spiegel is reporting that Obama may give a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate - which would, of course, lead to another round of articles wondering if Obama is the ‘liberal Reagan.'":


A member of Obama's campaign has already met with Berlin's mayor, Klaus Wowereit, and the Secret Service has reportedly started to investigate security questions surrounding a visit. 


No location has been announced, but the Berlin Senate has reportedly been asked whether Obama can speak in front of the Brandenburg Gate, where former US President Ronald Reagan gave a famous speech in 1987. Reagan made a show of asking then-Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down" the Berlin Wall.


Reagan's June 12, 1987 speech could also describe what is today the growing wall erected by the US government along the Mexican border:


Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same--still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar...


General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!


Reagan was not the first president to go to Berlin to make a global speech. On June 26, 1963, it was Democratic President John F. Kennedy that delivered his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" remarks, just as fierce in Cold War rhetoric:


Two thousand years ago the proudest boast was "civis Romanus sum." Today, in the world of freedom, the proudest boast is "Ich bin ein Berliner."


I appreciate my interpreter translating my German!

There are many people in the world who really don't understand, or say they don't, what is the great issue between the free world and the Communist world. Let them come to Berlin. There are some who say that communism is the wave of the future. Let them come to Berlin. And there are some who say in Europe and elsewhere we can work with the Communists. Let them come to Berlin. And there are even a few who say that it is true that communism is an evil system, but it permits us to make economic progress. Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen. Let them come to Berlin.

Freedom has many difficulties and democracy is not perfect, but we have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in, to prevent them from leaving us. I want to say, on behalf of my countrymen, who live many miles away on the other side of the Atlantic, who are far distant from you, that they take the greatest pride that they have been able to share with you, even from a distance, the story of the last 18 years. I know of no town, no city, that has been besieged for 18 years that still lives with the vitality and the force, and the hope and the determination of the city of West Berlin. While the wall is the most obvious and vivid demonstration of the failures of the Communist system, for all the world to see, we take no satisfaction in it, for it is, as your Mayor has said, an offense not only against history but an offense against humanity, separating families, dividing husbands and wives and brothers and sisters, and dividing a people who wish to be joined together.


The speculation about a possible Obama speech at that same spot makes Peter Beinart's column in the Washington Post today all the more interesting, especially because Beinart is a senior fellow of an organization, The Council on Foreign Relations, that has, for decades, promoted a Cold War lens through which to view US foreign relations:


Having seen fellow Democrats destroyed in the early 1950s because they tolerated a Communist victory in China, (President Lyndon) Johnson swore that he would not let the story replay itself in Vietnam, and thus pushed America into war. The awful irony, (author David) Halberstam argues, is that Johnson's fears were unfounded. The mid-1960s were not the early 1950s. The Red Scare was over. But because it lived on in Johnson's mind, he could not grasp the realities of a new day.


In this way, 2008 is a lot like 1964. On foreign policy, many Democrats live in terror of being called soft, of provoking the kind of conservative assault that has damaged so many of their presidential nominees since Vietnam. But that fear reflects memories of the past, not the realities of today. When Democrats worry about the backlash that awaits Barack Obama if he defends civil liberties, or endorses withdrawal from Iraq, or proposes unconditional negotiations with Iran, they are seeing ghosts. Fundamentally, the politics of foreign policy have changed...


Beinart cites polling data that shows that Americans are not as worried or obsessed with foreign or terrorist attack as they were years ago. He concludes:


Because Americans are less afraid and because Republicans have abandoned the foreign policy center, Democrats need not worry that Obama will suffer the fate of George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale or John Kerry. He won't lose because he looks weak. The greater danger is that he will change positions in a bid to look strong -- as he recently did on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act -- and come across as inauthentic and insincere. As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin have noted, the Democrats' biggest political liability is not that Americans believe they are too liberal but rather that they believe that Democrats don't stand for anything at all. On foreign policy, Obama has a chance to change that: to articulate a vision based on the principles of global cooperation and human dignity that animated Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt. He shouldn't be deterred by fears of being called soft. Those fears are the echoes of a bygone age.


Growing up with the Berlin Wall from 1961 to 1989 - and the Red Scares of the McCarthy Era before it - were generations of Americans whose thinking formed and calcified around it. After the fall of the wall (and with it the former Soviet bloc), US politicians - Republicans and Democrats - did their best to sustain that fear and loathing and transfer the mania to other things: the so-called war on drugs and, since 2001, the so-called war on terror. You will know the dinosaurs by those still harping on such bi-polar descriptions of an America under siege by a monstrous external threat and the corresponding witch hunts to track down and purge the imagined internal enemies within it.

The situation in the United States, since the fall of the Berlin Wall, has been as if the lights were turned on in the house of a blindfolded man. You can remove the furniture and even the wall, but he won't notice and will continue acting as if it's still there.

We've seen evidence of that old style of political thinking rear its head again and again this year as another, newer and fresher, one has gained the upper hand over it. There will no doubt be more shrieking - "where's my wall?" - before this year is out.

With every day's obituary pages, that worldview is, little by little, dying off. From behind come new generations, not stunted by such cowering fear of "the other," and in fact disgusted by it and those that try and inflict it upon us. And a solid number of elder Americans can also see and think beyond its destructive matrix.

The Berlin Wall is now 19 years torn down. What the moment needs - and speculation in the press suggests we might get it - is someone on the global stage to stand up and say, now and in the present: "Tear down that way of relating to the world around us!"


Update and Announcement: Field Hands that are going to attend the Netroots Nation convention in Austin July 17-22 (or The Field's party there on Wednesday, July 16), please let us know you'll be attending - and thus receive a special invitation - at this link.

Likewise, Field Hands that are going to be in Denver during the Democratic National Convention, August 25-28 (or The Field's big event there on Sunday, August 24), sign up for your special invitation here.

Another Update and Announcement: The Jed Report - makers of those fine viral videos that we frequently embed here - has been exposed... by Jed, who has now revealed his secret identity. Also: sign up for Jed's email list for news about his upcoming novel, a political thriller.


I believe the entire Reagan

I believe the entire Reagan quote was, "Tear down that wall! I want to visit the rest of the SS graves!"

This past year was the first

This past year was the first year I had students who were born in 1990. Isn't that incredible? The Soviet Union did not even exist for them. I remember the expression on one student's face during a class I was evaluating for a graduate student who told them that Clinton had talked about obliterating Iran during the "current events" section of his course on philosophy and politics. His eyes widened in shock and he looked so young and innocent. I had never been angrier at HRC than at that moment (well, also when she proudly talked about her grandfather teaching her how to shoot helpless animals at the age of 5. I wish people would really think about how terrible it is to teach children that young to kill and gratuitous violence towards animals is the gateway to violence towards people; feminists seemed to have forgotten that part). I see this in academia all the time: people who once made a contribution but who do not realize that times are different and who refuse to either change themselves or get out of the way. Ultimately, others have to pay the price. 

Cold Peace

The snapping of the lines of allegiance and opposition that followed the dissolution of the Soviet bloc have been reverberating for decades. The attempts to attack the whole Muslim world are so we can have an enemy at least as menacing as the Soviets were, or if not them, then the Japs.


Obama's the next generation. This is not automatically an endorsement.

Obama / Alinsky / Community Organizing

This link from the NY Times is probably better suited for earlier threads about Obama/Alinsky/etc., but it's a fairly positive and somewhat detailed look at Obama and community organizing.  Reporter suggests that Obama/Alinsky thought alike at times, different at others.  Worth a quick look.


Paradigm Shift

It's a fascinating prospect to think of Obama before the Brandenburg Gate speaking to a rapturous German crowd about the world before us.  As Gore and others have commented regarding the tipping point beyond which we as a nation and a people, as citizens of the world decisively decide to address the real crises before us, instead of reveling in the manufactured crises and manufactured outrages we are accustomed to, a paradigm shift in our thinking approaches. All the tools are in our hands now--and the real crises are all, rather conveniently, interconnected.  Call it the need for sustainability or efficiency or sensitivity or common sense.  

War and peace, individual health care and public health, education at all levels, care for our elders, social justice and fairplay, economic security for the many as opposed to the few, and the healing of our environment and care for all the organisms (including ourselves) occupying the Creation... all these concerns are connected by our inability to imagine and effectively institute the policies, programs, systems, and above all ways of thinking that will allow us to recognize that we are all in this together and that we are running out of time to get things right.  Utopia is not an option but dystopia is... it is what we are most familiar with.  But the key, in my eyes to actually being able to embark on the necessary as well as the sensible path to address these interlocking issues at this crucial juncture is a word that very few politicians have ever been courageous enough to utter with conviction: Hope.  This is what Obama can articulate at the Brandenburg Gate (and needs to continue to articulate here)--the word that even the most destitute imaginations (read: cynics) respond to at some gut level--which only makes their outrage that much more shrill and vehement.

I have been wanting to share these extraordinary lines with this group for some time; they are relevant to the post's theme of changing thinking.  The Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, wrote them for the Chorus in his verse play The Cure at Troy (1990), a translation of Sophocles' Philoctetes. He specifically has in mind here Nelson Mandela's recent release (Feb. 11, 1990) from Robben Island. [And for those unfamiliar with poetry, Hallmark schlock is not poetry. Poetry is as tough a medium as it is sensitive--thus, Heaney's responsiveness to Mandela.] Heaney gave a signed broadside featuring these lines to Bill Clinton as thanks for that Administration's efforts to assist the Northern Ireland Peace Process.  I have heard that this broadside was on display in the White House. Indeed, times have changed and these lines might serve as a prayer and vision of what is possible on a global scale with truly global leadership in the White House confronting the global crises that define today.

Human beings suffer.

They torture one another.

They get hurt and get hard.

No poem or play or song

Can fully right a wrong

Inflicted and endured.


History says, Don't hope

On this side of the grave,

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed-for tidal wave

Of justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme.


So hope for a great sea-change

On the far side of revenge.

Believe that a further shore

Is reachable from here.

Believe in miracles

And cures and healing wells.


Call miracle self-healing,

The utter, self-revealing

Double-take of feeling.

If there's fire on the mountain

Or Lightning and storm

And a god speaks from the sky


That means someone is hearing

The outcry and the birth-cry

Of new life at its term.

It means, once in a lifetime

That justice can rise up,

And hope and history rhyme. 

Tear down that way of relating to the world around us!

"Tear down that way of relating to the world around us!"

This is the wisest line you've ever written in the time I've been with The Field. Or, more accurately, this is the line that has resonated the most, or the deepest -- au fond, is the most real -- to me.

This line speaks to me, talks for me. I wish I had arrived at this clarity myself, but I didn't.

You need to do one more thing related to this, however. Something probably loony, yet it could be effective.

But first a story.

Ten years ago I was on my way to Reno just after Christmas to catch a headliner's show. The headliner's staff arranged for a private van to take me from the Reno airport to the CA side. The driver was a kick. A talker. Full of stories. I asked him if Reno had Red Light districts like Amsterdam -- what did I know, NV has legal brothels, n'est-ce-pas? -- where patrons could peruse the goods. He said "We got one better. Open the glove compartment."

So I did. I pulled out a complex printed laundry list of the most descriptive sexual acts laid out in Column A, Column B format. Column A was straight...ish. Column B was kinky.

"You can lie in your motel in Carson and dream up your wildest fantasy, then get it delivered. Just like Goo Goo Mai Pan [sic]," he told me. "The Judges use this all the time." [There's a Judge College in either Reno or Carson City -- can't remember -- that all newly minted USA Judges in the country, from municipal to Supreme, are required to attend before they can officially take the bench.]

The driver told me, "You can always tell a guy from his Column A, Column B. Dead giveaway."

That said.

Derision and sarcasm -- and some goddam humor -- are the most potent tools in deflating political nonsense or accepted wisdom. Or dynastic political ideas, whose mere repetition for some of us are stupefying, wearying; we're fed up with them; we need a place to park mention of these corpses.

So I, in my limited capacity as a lowly commenter, would ask that a Column A/Column B response be allowed to be set up, tongue-in-cheek, to identify the ways in which the USA relates to the world around it that no longer work. Column A being so-called conventional wisdom. Column B, maybe, perhaps, being the conspiracies. [For the record, I believe in conspiracies; I dont believe in conspiracy theories.] Simple statements. Accurate. Derisive. Funny maybe, but a necessary put-down.

A full-throated howl at how we got to where we are. It doesn't have to make sense, because it doesn't. It just needs to be stated.

Because the way we are relating to the world around us is beyond bizarre. It's not working. it has no relationship to reality. And it's harming us as well as others.

Brendan , , ,

I hadn't read this Heaney poem. And it is unlike his other work. More urgent. Simpler. Thanks for it.

Slightly Off Topic

Slightly off topic, but did anyone else see the reports that Obama is going to accept the Dem nomination at Invesco Field in Denver instead of the Pepsi Center? That means he'll be accepting the nomination in front of 75,000 people on the 45th anniversary of King's "I have a Dream Speech."  Wow.  That should be amazing.

Beautiful words

Brendan, thank you for sharing such a wonderful poem.  It is a reminder that this new way of thinking isn't so new, but a movement that has been needed before to wash away the fear.  I have often thought our country was going through birthing pains, so that a new and improved version would break through.  It is going to be a fight, but in my heart I know the time is now, when justice will rise up, and hope and history will rhyme.



Thank you too for that poem - and Al for the musings on the Brandenburg gate theme.  When I read that Obama may give a speech there I thought that would be just fantastic.  It would get roadblock coverage on TV and imagine the reaction of the American people of seeing the world fervor for their potential president (and country) from another land - we haven't been able to feel proud of our country in that way for a long time.

Also - this is absolutely something that McCain would never be able to do.  Even if he had the creativity to think of giving a speech in such a place, he would never be able to deliver it with power and strength.  Frank Rich had a column yesterday claiming that Obama has lost his boldness - I don't agree, I think he's just saving it at the moment, during the hazy lazy days of summer when no-one's paying attention - however a speech like this - and then followed up by the convention speech - outdoors to a great crowd - will snap everyone to attention, momentum for the last two crucial months.  If there's one thing I've been convinced that Obama possesses (evidenced during this campaign) is an impeccable sense of timing.  And the one journalist that I've found that has trusted in and fully understood (and been patient) with this timing and the importance of it has been Al Giordano of The Field.


Sadness and Joy

Al, as usual a spot on post.  You made a brief acknowledgement of the comparison of the Berlin Wall to the monstrosity (which is made worse by its ineffectiveness) going up along the US southern border.

I immediately flashed back a couple weeks in time to the cover of Time which was a picture of the monstrosity.  I turned to my wife, pointed to the picture, and said, "This is an immensely sad picture and makes me think of Berlin."  And it is just a modern day version of the same type of thinking, where there is always an enemy.

And that is exactly where Obama needs to go.  To talk about the old mind set, where there was always an enemy needed for us to look at.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, I warned several of my friends to look for an uptick in hate crimes in this country.  I expected them to mainly be of the anti-Black and anti-Jewish type but the bombing of the WTC in the early 90's gave AZmericans another object of hate, the Muslims.

This was apparent after the Oklahoma City bombings where the first reaction was that Muslim terrorists had done it.  This continued even after McVeigh was captured.  9/11 spurred it on, and even allowed the enaction of policies that served a purpose of going after the next hated group, illegal immigrants (but only of the brown skinned variety, Poles, Irish, etc were not a problem).

Yes, Obama needs to talk about tearing down the old type of thinking, which he actually has done a lot.  In talking of Iraq, he not only talks about the need to exit Iraq, but also the imperative to end the type of thinking which got us there in the first place.

And that means ending the formulation of foreign policy (indeed any policy) based mostly on fear and hate.  And the fact the he does recognize this, and is already talking about it is why I do feel joy.

Another New Hampshire?

The image of Obama speaking in front of the Brandenburg Gate to a huge, rapturous crowd is very appealing.  I hope that the speech, if he gives it, won’t be seen by voters here as another example of Obama overreaching, presuming to be President when he is not.  His overconfident speeches to big crowds before the New Hampshire primary provoked a backlash against him.  More recently, there was the brief appearance of his fake-Presidential seal, which he was able to remove without much fanfare.  But a big speech like that can’t be quietly withdrawn.  It could be a great occasion, but I’d feel more comfortable if he spoke somewhere else. 


You Have the Wrong Location for the Kennedy Speech

JFK's speech was not at the Brandenburg Gate, but rather at the Rathaus Schöneberg in the middle of West Berlin. That's the picture you have up there.  The Brandenburg Gate is located about 4.4 km away (right near the Reichstag) and was one of the main landmarks on the border between East and West Berlin.  Conveniently enough, the US embassy (newly reopened) is located just beyond the Brandenburg Gate on Pariser Platz.

I Learn Something New Every Day

Ben Alpers - Thanks for the geographic correction. Will correct the story above.

A New America...

I would love to see him do this. Thanks for the history lesson for those of us who were a bit too young or not yet born when those speeches were made.

Seeing one of Barack's incredible soaring speeches made on a global scale is something no one would or could forget. His visits to foreign lands will go a great distant in introducing a new America to both our friends and foes. Now if we can just get our own countrymen and women to mark the bubble next to his name come November, we can get OUR New America moving forward and make some real changes.

We have many walls that should be torn down

When you tear something down, something new will need to be constructed, and the time is ripe to move the US toward healthier modes of thought and action.

I would be heartened if some type of domestic peace corps would be developed.  There are so many areas in which the nation has become bogged down that if these issues were framed on a level of national service and making the country stronger, then these ideas could have resonance.

Clearly, the alienated individualism and vapid consumerism model of social stability and apathy has reached its limit point.

Elites in both parties will become nervous with bold proposals that threaten to mobilized the sleeping masses of people that have been configured into mere consumers, but this is the health of the nation and the world that is at stake.

Al, I just received the check from Deb, so look for another contribution in the very near future.


(And thanks to Deb for at least refunding my money.  I know that you could have been sued and had your non-profit status revoked.  However, you could have saved yourself time and grief by simply transfering the money to Al immediately after he informed you that your censorhip was unacceptable and that he would be moving operations elsewhere.)



Walls Everywhere

Today the wall being built at the Mexico border is another example of switching the focus. Immigration is becoming the cause of the day in many circles.

 Americans are not as worried or obsessed with foreign or terrorist attack as they were years ago.

Lou Dobb's and people like him push for walls and spew rhetoric telling Americans that the brown people are invading us and ruining our country as a way of justifying the thinking of walls.

I dream of a day when America is not being fear mongered into building one wall or another, literal or psychological.


@Ezzy, why have you not joined Fieldhands yet? We could use you in the San Diego group.

NYT, Saul Alinsky and Barack Obama

The NYT has an article on Obama's years as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago:

The small organization Mr. Obama worked for, the Developing Communities Project, was influenced by the thinking of Saul Alinsky, a Chicago native regarded as the father of community organizing. Mr. Alinsky viewed self-interest as the main motivation for political participation...

Mr. Obama shunned Mr. Alinsky’s strategy of using confrontation tactics like pressuring public officials and business leaders by picketing their homes.

Mr. Obama did adhere to the Alinsky principle of meticulously planning for meetings with people in power. The roles of the residents were scripted and the organizer was a quiet, inconspicuous presence.


THIS is a prime example of why there are crickets chirping over at the former home of The Field. We finally have a Democratic leader who is reshaping the way our party functions at its most basic level and party insiders like Ms. Kozikowski better get with the program or his grassroots organization is going to leave her and those like her in the dust. Like it or not Ms. Kozikowski, what was once considered "radical" is now mainstream.

where it is needed

well, then. it's a good analogy. and i would like to see obama give the speech on the banks of the río bravo, myself.

It's a go at the Bronco Stadium...

...or whatever the stupid corporate name is.  75000 people at the nomination acceptance speech - wow!  I work for AT&T Wireless and I bet there are some folks scrambling today to make sure we have the necessary coverage.  They've been busting their humps to make sure the convention center is covered.


On the previously mentioned AP bias, there is a post up on TPM Cafe identifying the board of directors to contact.  There is no actual contact info but the name and organization is listed.



Submit your q's to Pelosi

Sorry to be off topic (fantastic post again!) but I wanted to give Fieldhands who haven't heard the chance to vote on/submit question for Nancy Pelosi to answer in Austin. 

Go to this link to submit your q---


then come back and tell us which q is yours so we can vote it up!

Can someone formulate a brilliant q that somehow weaves in the credential held hostage? ;-) I know Pam's gonna present the petition (Congrats Pam!) but I figure any extra publicity is good publicity for our cause.

Si Se Puede!


"I hate quotations."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Contacting Nancy Pelosi

Amie, we can all also email Nancy Pelosi, so she is well briefed on the credentials being held hostage before she gets to Austin:


I think it would be helpful to also mention if you've emailed Aaron Myers - I don't know anyone who has gotten a response. If you add a copy of the email sent to Myers to the Pelosi email, I think it would be effective.

An expansive view of Europe

Great post. It may be difficult to remember those times and impossible for some younger generations. Because of my father's job I visited many of the antiaircraft missle sites that used to be scattered throughout neighborhoods on both coasts. When we looked at vapor trails high in the sky we were told they were bombers. Everyone knows about the drills in school when kids were told to hide under their desks to protect them from atomic bombs. It was a nightmare that many of us decided was a huge sham without learning the later evidence that proved it was trumped up by the conservatives.

Even the statement above about Democrats being blamed for losing China is a falsehood, used to cover the US government support of corrupt Chinese officials who alienated and stole from every potential supporter among the Chinese people. Visit the countryside in China and there will be a living survivor of the long march put on his or her uniform and stand at attention in front of their village as the Americans hike past. That is the feeling of liberation they experienced (and which was unfortunately betrayed by Mao and his thuggish government).

It was a time of endless propaganda to create an environment of endless war. Barack Obama could speak in Berlin and has the point of view that would (Thank you Brendan) let "hope and history rhyme."

It would be with a special pride that I could watch the pall of the politics of fear being lifted in such a powerful way. "To not just end the war, but to end the habits of mind that lead us to war."

Good ideas, Suzy

Thanks, Suzy, good idea; I think the more people we contact the better. I decided as a sorta subtle dig at She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I added a Q about eliminating Superdelegates, but apparently if it's not a FISA freakout or about Impeachment, it's getting voted down as we speak.  On to email.

"I hate quotations."--Ralph Waldo Emerson

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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