Soaring speech, shopworn theme

There is a certain art to giving a speech, and certainly Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a mellifluous master of that art.

There, too, is a certain art to listening to a speech and interpreting its meaning and substance. One will not find more divergent skill sets than on the editorial pages of the nation's newspapers.

On the morning after Obama tackled the ticklish topic of his 20-year membership in a virtually all-black Chicago church headed by a ranting and raving paranoid black separatist, both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times delivered fawning editorials comparing the speech to ones given by Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy.

(As my father used to drawl: "Great minds travel in the same plane -- but fools just think alike.")

"It is hard to imagine how he could have handled it better," the New York paper enthused.

"What is evident, though, is that he not only cleared the air over a particular controversy -- he raised the discussion to a higher plane."

The Los Angeles editorial, traveling in that same higher plane, called the speech "historic." After invoking the speeches of those same three aforementioned presidents, the paper said, "Sen. Barack Obama, another lanky lawyer from Illinois, planted one of those rhetorical markers in the political landscape Tuesday."

The editorial also quoted CNN's Bill Schneider, who called the speech "the most sophisticated speech on race and politics I've ever heard."

The Dallas Morning News editorial page called the speech "unflinching, human and ultimately hopeful," "magnificent" and "one for the history books."

"It was possibly the most important major speech on race in America since Dr. King died," the Dallas paper's commentary concluded.

On the other hand, when I stuck my head in the editorial page office at the Review-Journal to discuss the editorial that appeared on the same morning as those above, I noted that Obama had proved two things. One, he is not a racist. Two, he is a socialist.

I cited his attempt to redirect what he called black anger and white resentment toward the real enemy -- "a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many."

Since I'd just listened to the speech, I made particular note of his line about the problem not being someone who doesn't look like you taking your job but that a corporation might ship your job overseas "for nothing more than a profit," and how he spat out the word "profit" like it was one of the profanities from his pastor's pulpit.

In other words, instead of black vs. white, it should be the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie.

Or as our editorial the next day put it, "So how best to end the country's ongoing race war? Apparently by inflaming the country's ongoing class war, in Sen. Obama's view."

Our editorial concluded, "Sen. Obama has proved himself a unifier on the issue of race. But on taxes and the economy, his ideas of equity are as divisive as they come."

The Wall Street Journal's editorial that day reached a similar conclusion, "Mr. Obama's villains, in other words, are the standard-issue populist straw men of Wall Street and the GOP, and his candidacy is a vessel for liberal policy orthodoxy -- raise taxes, 'invest' more in social programs, restrict trade, retreat from Iraq," noting his ideas "are neither new nor transcendent."

Investor's Business Daily's editorial put it thusly: "Another of Obama's answers is that black anger and white resentment should give way to 'the real culprits' -- capitalists ..."

You want diversity? Now that's diversity -- not of skin color or gender, but of editorial pages addressing ideas and principles and how best to run this nation.

The role of the press, in addition to straight-forward coverage of the speeches, issues and controversies, is to analyze, comment and put in historic perspective -- vastly different perspectives.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of a free press and access to public records. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at