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The [Wednesday] Papers

UPDATE 5:58 P.M
From Chicago Tonight: "Senator Barack Obama's impassioned speech in Philadelphia yesterday took on the issue of race. Carol Marin and her panel take a closer look at the speech and the concerns he raised."

You can tune in, as always, at 7 p.m. on WTTW.

*

I didn't get the chance to see Barack Obama's big speech yesterday, though I saw the video clips that later ran most frequently on the TV news shows; I hope to catch up with the whole thing later this week. In the meantime, I thought I'd bring you what I thought was the most interesting local commentary in today's papers.

Also:

- Our third annual Beachwood Brackets are here! A surefire way to win your office pool.

- Cate Plys has a new Open Letter that can neatly summarized as: Let my Cook County people go!

- "The [Rezko] Papers" has been updated to reflect the very interesting comments by reporters and editorial writers who met with Obama last Friday.

And now, compare and contrast.

*

"What I haven't always been sure about is Obama's wisdom," writes Mark Brown, who notes that "despite some misgivings."he voted for Obama in the Illinois presidential primary. "Is he a wise man, I've asked myself, the Tony Rezko business frankly having given me pause.

"I see real wisdom in this speech, a man who is learning as he goes along, a man who knows who he is . . . His experience - or lack thereof - has been an issue in the presidential campaign. In this matter, though, we are reminded he has the experience from which this country could greatly benefit - seeing the world through eyes other than our own."

*

"It was a great speech." writes Lynn Sweet. "And it would have been greater if it were not delivered because Obama was in a jam. But the enduring truths of Obama's words are important to acknowledge even if they may not provide him with the political cover he desperately needs at this time. His speech, magnificent as it is, offered moral guidance that may influence one's conscience but not one's vote . . .

"Obama was forced to give this defining speech because selections of Wright's sermons - the poisonous parts - burst out in the open a few days ago, and the videos don't lie.

"Obama is lucky they did not surface earlier. He decided now is not the time to run from Wright, a man he considers family. As charitable as he was toward Wright, he had found no mercy for Geraldine Ferraro, the Clinton supporter and former vice presidential candidate whose ill-chosen racial references were seized on by Obama's campaign and whipped up into a frenzy until she was forced to exit Clinton's campaign, her own legacy ruined.

"Obama also raised more doubts. He admitted in his speech that he heard some of Wright's fiery rhetoric. 'Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church? Yes.'

"Obama said something different on Friday, when he met with the Chicago Sun-Times. 'I'll be honest with you. I wasn't in church when any of those sermons were issued.' He went on to say, referring to Wright, 'I had not heard him make such, what I consider to be objectionable remarks from the pulpit.'"


*

"It's not often that a politician gives a speech that's both beautiful and brave," writes Mary Schmich. "Barack Obama did it Tuesday."

"I say this as someone not pledged to candidate Obama. At the moment, I'm wearing someone else's ring. I say this merely as someone who appreciates anyone with the ability to talk bluntly but calmly about race, not only what it meant in 1823 and 1963 but how it shapes our lives right now."

*

"As he spoke, I saw him as the next president of the United States and thought of voters feeling the same," writes John Kass. "A few moments afterward, one of the wire service headlines said: 'Obama Speech Confronts Racial Division,' a view certain to continue, reinforced by the media at every opportunity, that Obama faced the dragon and emerged from Philadelphia as triumphant as St. George. All of this is quite nice indeed. But confronting race wasn't the task at hand . . .

"Obama joined Wright's church for a reason, just as he knew there was a reason the political fixer Tony Rezko was trying to seduce him. Obama is no fool. He gets to the edge of things.

"So on Tuesday, he stepped lightly, expertly shifting the debate about Wright to a wider debate on solid ground, about race and American hopes and American guilt."

*

"Are we listening, America? On Tuesday morning, Barack Obama delivered the speech of his life about the most divisive issue in America in this day or any day - race," the Sun-Times editorial page says. Obama on Tuesday spoke to our better angels. And maybe America moved a little."

*

"[A]s powerful as his words were, there was more he could have said but didn't," writes Carol Marin. "It was about Geraldine Ferraro. Just as Sen. Obama spoke about the decency and complexity of his incendiary pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in the wake of the firestorm Wright has provoked, surely he knows the same is true of Ms. Ferraro, whom Obama coolly acknowledged but only in very spare terms . . .

"At the Sun-Times last Friday, at the height of the Wright controversy, the senator said he was not in the pews of Chicago's Trinity Church when his pastor issued some of his more vitriolic sermons. Obama flatly stated, 'I'll be honest with you. I wasn't in church when any of those sermons were issued.'

"But Tuesday, the senator in his speech said something different. 'Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes.'

"OK, which is it?

Bonus Marin: "This will not be the first time that Obama has parsed. The whole reason for the meeting with reporters and editors at the Sun-Times was that for more than a year we had asked for and not gotten from the senator the full story on his relationship to his now-indicted friend and fund-raiser, Tony Rezko. And when he finally arrived to address that last week, the number of times they met and/or talked and the amount of money Rezko raised for Obama were at variance with the descriptions Obama originally provided."

*

"Much like the travails that bring a child into the world, amid the bitter groans of racial strife, a president may have been born," writes Mary Mitchell.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Groaning.

Comments
1. From Tim Howe: "I watched the whole thing on the Trib site yesterday afternoon. It was not perfect, but it was good. It seemed to be more of a conversation than oratory (which many commentators later suggested was an intentional effort to avoid sounding like the "'black preacher' whose words he was condemning - maybe so). And I think Mark Brown's take is accurate: he had probably been kicking around most of this in his head for some time.

"The question is, will anyone besides political reporters and political junkies watch a 37-minute speech? Of course not. Which means most folks will only know what the pundits tell them about it.

"John Kass was, as usual, mostly mocking even as he praised. And he went on to call out Wright for language (regarding 9/11) which was actually much milder than that of so many white ministers (Hagee, Falwell, Robertson, etc.) who continue to be embraced by the GOP establishment. I'll refrain from holding my breath in anticipation of his column attacking his conservative heroes on this point. But Kass probably thought Obama hit a bit too close to home with his reference to grandma, who had used racial slurs even though she's not a bad person. Kass and I hail from the same world; I can tell you how close to the surface the undercurrent of racist speech and attitude runs in that world. It's damned uncomfortable.

"But I was most surprised by Carol Marin's offense at the way Obama dealt with Geraldine Ferraro. She suggested 'he knows the same is true of Ms. Ferraro' but how can Carol know this? I suspect, in fact, that Obama doesn't know Ferraro at all, and that's why he couldn't say what he thought was in her heart, which is what he was trying to get at in discussing Wright.

"Sweet & Marin must have watched the speech together - their columns so closely mirroring each other with the angle you highlight in both. They seem to want Obama to recite exactly what Wright said every time he heard Wright preach, and then pronounce on whether it was merely fierce, or crossed over into objectionable, and then to explain why he didn't march out of church right then and there if it was (or perhaps storm the pulpit and wrest the microphone away from his pastor).

"Which of course leads me to harken back to my last point about Kass and a great many of us in general. What obligation do we have, whether as private citizens or public figures, when we hear someone else using offensive speech? Does it matter whether it's in public or in private and your respective role within that setting? Does your home church fall into some gray area between public and private? Do you work within that environment to create change and growth and enlightenment, or simply remove yourself from it?

"I don't pretend to know the answers to those questions. And I'm not sure Obama does either. But (contrary to what Kass wrote) we don't really talk about race in America, not in terms of how we personally confront the issue. What we talk about is how we talk about race as a society, which is substantially different. And I think that if we spoke more about the personal experience of race in America, as Obama tried to do Tuesday, we might - might - start to make progress."




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Posted on March 19, 2008


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