Philosopher Susan Neiman (most famously, the author of the highly acclaimed book, Evil in Modern Thought) has an insightful essay in the NY Times on Obama’s idealism, and how it played rather poorly in Germany in July of 2008. (Given their history, contemporary Germans are understandably suspicious and cynical of charismatic leaders who draw large crowds.)
Neiman, nevertheless, gives Obama credit for not being, in his Berlin speech, a mere optimist—which she defines as someone who is rigid, and believes things, and persists in failed directions, against reasonable evidence—but an idealist. She thinks we need less false optimism in politics, and more idealism—the power to believe that the world doesn’t have to always run in its fixed and determined grooves, but can be different:
Mr. Obama’s speech gave Europeans a chance to hear the difference between optimism and idealism. Optimists refuse to acknowledge reality. Idealists remind us that it isn’t fixed.
The full essay can be read here: