- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

President Bush, but the leaders he will meet when his Western Europe trip begins Thursday may have more in common with his political rival.

Conservatives in recent years have assumed power across Europe - a near reversal from what President Bush faced when taking office in 2001.

The left-wing parties that thrived in the late 1990s have dissipated, and conservatives have sprung to leadership positions or have crushed opposition in recent power shifts here, in France and in Italy.

Mr. Obama had a taste of the ideological bent when preparing for his event here, as conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel blanched at suggestions that the historic Brandenburg Gate be the site for his German speech. As thousands of adoring Europeans, tourists and Americans living abroad plan to witness the speech at the city’s “Victory Column,” Mrs. Merkel may be changing her tune.

“I would say that he is well-equipped - physically, mentally and politically,” the chancellor told reporters at a news conference Wednesday in anticipation of her private meeting with the Democratic presidential hopeful.

Mr. Obama also plans to meet with opposition leaders here and in France and England later in the week.

Should Mr. Obama become president, he would be “the only left-wing leader remaining among the Group of Eight nations,” according to the Toronto Globe and Mail, which noted that three of the 27 countries in the European Union have liberal leanings.

Visitors to Berlin were buzzing all week about the visit. Korean tourists nodded and said, “Oh, yes, Obama,” when asked whether they knew of the man on the cover of so many German newspapers and magazines.

“He’s a better partner for us,” said Wolfgang Jordan, who sells schoolbooks in Hamburg, Germany. “George Bush has never tried to think from our position.”

“Obama? Es cambia,” said Emiliano, a tourist from Spain, giving the Spanish word for “change.”

“The president is the most powerful man in the world still. What America does affects everybody,” said Berlin psychologist Wolfgang Ohm. He said he is unimpressed with Mr. Bush and said that “Obama acts like I would expect a president to act.”

Aboard the Eastern Comfort boat in eastern Berlin, where long stretches of the Berlin Wall remain, Obama fans donned T-shirts and hats June 3, the night he won enough the delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination.

The speech was promoted Wednesday night at an English-language party on the boat. Expatriates and political fans from across Europe discussed their plans to attend, although some were not pleased that they likely would spend hours in the sun waiting for the event to begin.

“The whole world wants Obama to be president,” said a New Zealander here for the summer to study German.

A Gallup Poll released Wednesday showed that 64 percent of those surveyed in France, 62 percent in Germany and 60 percent in Britain would prefer Mr. Obama over his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, as the U.S. president.

Europeans who talked about Mr. Obama said they mostly are frustrated with Mr. Bush and the Iraq war.

“Oh my goodness: The whole world cares what happens in America,” said Laura Lopez, a student at Mexico’s University of Guadalajara who is studying in Austria and was visiting Berlin this week.

Several others said they were following the race closely and said thatthe outcome would shape their own country’s path.

“The election of Obama would resonate with how these countries feel about the candidates and could go a long way to restoring U.S. prestige in Europe,” the Gallup Poll concluded. “There is no question that Obama has become a ‘rock star’ of sorts.”

Mr. Obama’s photo has graced the cover of German newspapers and magazines and the speech was being promoted on television and radio. About 1,300 journalists requested credentials to cover the evening speech, which begins at 7 p.m. Those attending must start arriving at 4 to get through security and get a good spot.

The campaign enlisted German supporters to help spread the word, and many were seen handing out fliers in downtown Berlin on Wednesday. Several carried balloons emblazoned with the “Obama ‘08” logo.

“If he wins, I can be proud to be a U.S. citizen abroad,” said student Linnea Kreibohm, who was handing out the fliers. “All of the Americans in Berlin are for Obama. He appeals to the youth, to our artistic nature.”

The Berliners for Obama Web site lauded their candidate for choosing a “city of change” for his one public European event.

They said a city that once was the “epicenter of oppression, racism and megalomania” that led to war and then later was torn apart, now is “liberal, thriving and multicultural city.”

Berlin is “in an ideal position to learn from the tragedy of its own history,” the group wrote. “Here, traces of the past are omnipresent. Today’s Berlin is proof that integrity is possible: coalescence, understanding and hope.”

Some Obama supporters from other parts of Europe were frustrated that they had short notice - the campaign officially announced the event Sunday - to attend and that he is not making any other public stops before heading back to the United States.

“I’m just crushed,” a Londoner said.

As Team Obama scrambled to prepare the site for what could be their largest event yet, a German man was arrested for spattering red paint in the secure zone of the Victory Column. The man drove past security, which blocked the area off Wednesday to construct a stage and press riser for the speech.

The Victory Column was inaugurated in 1873 as a celebration of a series of recent Prussian military victories - over Denmark, Austria and France.

The official estimate for the crowd rests at between 10,000 and 1 million, and security is expected to be tight.

Obama adviser Robert Gibbs said the senator from Illinois seeking to be the nation’s first black president would stress “the need to strengthen the trans-Atlantic relationship and to meet 21st century challenges” and added that Germany was an appropriate location for such a speech because 20th-century cooperation was crucial to meeting the world’s challenges.

“It’s a great idea for name recognition in the event he does become president. People will remember he was here and they will already have a feeling for what he stands for,” said Sue McMahon, an accountant on vacation from Milwaukee.

Her husband, still making up his mind in the presidential race, disagreed, calling the speech a “shrewd political move.”

Others were similarly skeptical.

“Giving a speech over here doesn’t increase his ability to handle international matters or his experience level,” said Myron Tucker, a Republican oral surgeon from Charlotte, N.C.

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