The Greatest Speech on Race (Ever Written By a White Guy?)Politics — By Joe Carter on March 19, 2008 at 12:36 am
Yesterday Senator Barack Obama gave an impassioned and heartfelt speech on race in America. After reading the text online my first reaction was, “Great speech…I wonder who wrote it.”
Now if that wasn’t your first thought it’s probably a sign that you don’t live in Washington, D.C.
Wait? You thought Obama wrote it himself? Well, I suppose that’s not outside the realm of possibility. And I suspect he did throw in an anecdote and had a hand in adding a line or two. But wrote the whole thing himself? Extremely unlikely.
What is more probable is that the Great Race Speech was written by the “baby faced, 26-year-old white guy” Jon Favreau, the Obama campaign’s head speechwriter. (Ironic, isn’t it, that such a lauded speech on race was most likely written by a Liberal White Dude?) Favreau has become something of a star because of his ability to put words in Obama’s mouth. After the Illinois Senator gave his victory speech in Iowa, Michael Gerson, the conservative former speechwriter for George W. Bush, complimented Favreau on his great work. And rightly so.
Still, there is something unseemly about the practice, even if it is an open secret. In most of America, if you take someone else’s words and pass them off as your own it’s called plagiarism and it’s considered a heinous breach of ethics. In D.C. if you take someone else’s words and pass them off as your own it’s called ghostwriting and it’s considered the way business is done. Everyone in town acknowledges that, unless the person is part of the professional class of scribes, most big-wigs in D.C. aren’t writing their own material. Indeed, if you want to stump a politico in Washington, ask them about something they wrote in their latest op-ed. They’ll need to have some twenty-something staffer “remind” them of what they supposedly wrote.
(Fortunately, Christians are above this sort of chicanery. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2) When we put our name on a work and give the audience the impression we wrote it then it means we wrote it…right?)
But my concern is not that politicians and other Beltway insiders lipsync the tunes produced by unacknowledged wordsmiths. What bothers me is that we watch some politician read someone else’s words off of a teleprompter and then fawn over their speech as if we just witnessed the oratorical pyrotechnics of a a Cicero or Churchill .
Technical excellence in delivering a speech is certainly a notable, albeit minor, skill. But if we are moved by the brilliance of the rhetoric why do we not lavish our praise on the person that actually produced the words and ideas? In other words, why do we swoon for the dummy rather than the ventriloquist?