Barack Obama's speech may have cemented his place as the media's new JFK, judging by the besotted tone of the Times' lead editorial Wednesday. The headline, "Mr. Obama's Profile in Courage" even referenced Kennedy's Pulitzer-Prize winning book (which was likely written by Kennedy's speechwriter Ted Sorenson).
Along with the network newscasts, the Times' editorial board treated the speech the way Obama wanted it to be treated, as a transcendent statement on race in America, not a desperate response to specific hateful remarks by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The paper portrayed Obama as soaring over the sordid and petty present situation (the reason for the speech in the first place). The editorial saved the pettiness for Republican Mitt Romney's speech on religion and his defense of his Mormon faith, and a bizarre attack on Bush
There are moments - increasingly rare in risk-abhorrent modern campaigns - when politicians are called upon to bare their fundamental beliefs. In the best of these moments, the speaker does not just salve the current political wound, but also illuminates larger, troubling issues that the nation is wrestling with.
Inaugural addresses by Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt come to mind, as does John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on religion, with its enduring vision of the separation between church and state. Senator Barack Obama, who has not faced such tests of character this year, faced one on Tuesday. It is hard to imagine how he could have handled it better.
Mr. Obama had to address race and religion, the two most toxic subjects in politics. He was as powerful and frank as Mitt Romney was weak and calculating earlier this year in his attempt to persuade the religious right that his Mormonism is Christian enough for them.
It was not a moment to which Mr. Obama came easily. He hesitated uncomfortably long in dealing with the controversial remarks of his spiritual mentor and former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who denounced the United States as endemically racist, murderous and corrupt.
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama drew a bright line between his religious connection with Mr. Wright, which should be none of the voters' business, and having a political connection, which would be very much their business. The distinction seems especially urgent after seven years of a president who has worked to blur the line between church and state.
The Times thinks Obama has settled the pesky Rev. Wright issue once and for all:
We can't know how effective Mr. Obama's words will be with those who will not draw the distinctions between faith and politics that he drew, or who will reject his frank talk about race. What is evident, though, is that he not only cleared the air over a particular controversy - he raised the discussion to a higher plane.