Barack-toberfest Metaphor-o-ama!

Oh, how clever the media got in describing Obama’s Berlin speech

When everyone’s talking about something, it can be hard to find new ways to describe it. But fear not, dear readers: our media are a literary lot, and their descriptions of Obama’s Berlin speech were chock full of exciting analogies. (Obama’s speech is “a tone poem”? Riveting!)

So, in the spirit of our previous Primary Night Metaphor-o-rama (and, yes, in the spirit of a summer Friday afternoon), we bring you our Heal the World Through Words/You May Say I’m a Dreamer, But I’m Not the Only One/Ich Bin Ein Metaphor list—some of the classic analogies with which members of the media described the Transcendent Moment of History/Overrated Spectacle that the world witnessed yesterday. Enjoy. And may your reading be bathed, like the tableau of Obama’s speech, in a glow of golden, gossamer light.


Obama = John F. Kennedy (TIME, CNN, NYT, The Nation, TPM)

Obama = Ronald Reagan (TIME, ABC News)

Obama = “Kennedy and Reagan rolled into one” (The Economist, TIME)

Obama = neither Kennedy nor Reagan (NRO)

Obama = Harry Truman (NRO)

Obama = Jimmy Carter (NRO)

Obama = John Lennon (TIME)

Obama = Hitler (The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, Fox & Friends’s Steve Doocey)

Obama ≠ Hitler (The Atlantic)


Speech = “the usual rock-star stuff” (NRO)

Obama’s reception = “a rock star welcome” (UK Guardian)

Speech = “Elvis-like hope and change” (NRO)

Speech = “Beatlemania-style rally” (The Atlantic)

Berlin = “the world stage” (WaPo’s The Fix)

Speech = “a tone poem” (NYT)

Speech’s setting = a picture (Newsweek: “a picture like that is worth a thousand words or, in this case, tens of millions of dollars worth of free campaign advertising”)

Speech = “a general picture of this moment’s defining challenges and the changes required to meet them” (TPM)

Television images of speech = “a curious tableau” (NYT)

Speech = “an audition on the world stage for Obama” (TIME)

Obama = “Super Star” (Der Spiegel)

Speech’s setting = “a professional outdoor concert” (Vanity Fair)

Crowd = “a sweaty mosh pit” (Vanity Fair)

Speech = “the operatic piece of political theater”

Story of the day = “the scene and stagecraft” (WaPo)

Speech’s spirit of human togetherness = spirit of human togetherness in any alien-invasion movie (TNR’s Michael Crowley)


Speech = “Obama messianic sermonizing” (NRO)

Visit = spiritual coming (Times of London: “The Germans had endowed the visit with almost supernatural significance”)

Speech = resurrection (The Economist: “new life to the idea of the American century”)

Speech = Sermon on the Mount (Newsweek: “If Obama wins the election in November, this moment will be remembered as prophetic, a 21st-century Sermon on the Mount moving enough to sway even the most dedicated political agnostics.”)

Speech = “sermon to Germans” (Townhall)

Speech = “the Obama mission” (Times of London)


Obama = “a gladiator standing his ground against the media hordes” (WaPo)

Obama = the “mysterious stranger” (TNR)

Obama ≠ the “American Adam” (TNR)


Speech = “a real grand slam” (TIME)

Speech = “a slam-dunk success” (Salon’s Joan Walsh, on MSNBC)

Trip = “premature victory lap” (NYO)

Speech = a poker game (NYT: “Eberhard Sandschneider of the German Council on Foreign Relations said, ‘The Obama who spoke tonight did not put all his cards on the table.’”)

Tour = Obama’s vacation (John Feheery, CNN)


Speech = “a veritable carnival” (Times of London)

Trip = “a political high-wire” act (NYT)

Speech = “public spectacle” (NRO)

Speech = “a stupendous ride through world history” (Der Spiegel)


German attitudes = “Teutonic reservoir of icy cool” (Newsweek)

Crowd = a sea of people (NYT)

Speech = “an unalloyed triumph” (WaPo’s Howard Kurtz)

Images of speech = gold (WaPo: “The pictures have dominated… . In a campaign, that’s as good as gold.”)

Setting = a gold-washed tableau (TAP: “The setting sun threw a brilliant wash of gold over the whole tableau. It made Thomas Kincaid look like a hack (well, a bigger hack), and must have required some serious juicing of whoever’s in charge of the sun.”)


Speech = “a chance to make partnership seem the most patriotic thing in the world” (The Economist)

Berlin = “a symbol of what cooperation in the transatlantic alliance can do” (WaPo)

Media covering Obama = gigantic horde (WaPo: “The gigantic media horde accompanying Obama”)

Obama = seducer (Germany’s Stern magazine)

Speech = green light (Carpetbagger Report: message “that our allies are ready for the United States to lead again, and they’re captivated and inspired by one of the candidates seeking the job of leader of the free world.”)


Speech’s setting = “a picture-perfect summer evening that was washed in diaphanous light” (TIME)

Berlin = “a shining beacon of hope to the world” (The Atlantic)

Media fixation on Obama = “a spotlight so bright that their own people were left in the shadows” (WaPo)

Speech = “a soaring address” (TIME)

Obama = “the new leader of a lofty democracy that loves those big nice words—words that warm our hearts and alarm our minds” (Der Spiegel)

Obama = “the best hope for America’s salvation from the perceived catastrophic policies of its current president”(Newsweek)


Speech = “how we-were-, -are-, and -will-be-friends boilerplate” (NRO)

Speech = reclamation of the word “freedom” (The Nation)

Speech = “a manifesto for the planet” (Politico)


Obama = unambiguous nationalist (TNR)

Speech = movement toward perfection (TPM: “movement in the direction of that perfection that stubbornly continues to elude us”)

Obama = candidate for “president of the world” (Der Spiegel)

Obama = “the 44th president of the United States” (Der Spiegel)

anchors covering Obama = “Big Three anchor regime” (Politico)

Obama = “President of the future” (Times of London)

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.