Very interesting discussion on Bei Beckmann last night (cannot embed). The guests were ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt and his friend from New York, Professor Fritz Stern. In part, the appearance was to plug their new book Unser Jahrhundert: EIn Gespräch. But the conversation quickly turned to events of the day in Germany and US. The chain-smoking Schmidt gets in few nice digs against Guido Westerwelle ( "a master of pomposity" - Wichtigtuerei) but then then the topic turns to Barack Obama (about 30 minutes into the show) . When asked about Obama's superior rhetorical skills, Schmidt called Obama a "charismatic leader" (Charismatiker) in the vein of Hitler and Stalin, leaders who caused so much destruction (Unheil gestiftet) in the 20th century. Of course, one has to take into account that Helmut Schmidt, who was born in 1918, has seen more than his share of Unheil in his lifetime, and so is skeptical of inspirational leaders. On the show, Fritz Stern quickly comes to the defense of Obama, citing the president's pragmatism as one of his strengths.
Here Helmut Schmidt is conflating inspiration with demagoguery, and, to be sure, there is sometimes a fine line between the two. But any cursory analysis of Obama's speeches would show that the president appeals to "the better angels of our nature" (Lincoln) and his speeches are a far cry from the hate-filled tirades of Hitler. Obviously, Helmut Schmidt doesn't know Barack Obama. At the beginning of the show he waxed nostalgically about "my good friend Gerald Ford."