Is Obama for unity or division?

Senator Barack Obama gave a major speech yesterday, answering critics who question how closely he shares some of the radical beliefs of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Given in Philadelphia, the speech was eloquent. You don’t have to agree with Obama’s politics to appreciate his flair for rhetoric.

Obama tried to strike a theme of inclusion, rejecting what he called “the politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism.” He almost pulled it off.

But then, talking about how the focus of this election campaign should be different from past campaigns, he made this statement:

“This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn’t look like you might take your job; it’s that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.”

Talk about “division, and conflict, and cynicism.” It’s all there in that one sentence; except rather than dividing us along racial lines, the division is along class lines””labor versus capitalists.

Apparently, rather than demonize people of another race””clearly an offensive thing here or anywhere else””it’s now safe to demonize corporations that do what’s prudent to provide goods or services at a price their customers are willing to pay.

Nothing is said about government policies that raise the cost of doing business, making it tough to create jobs while still earning the profits needed to stay in business.

Nothing is said about the value of the profit motive in directing labor and capital to their highest and best uses for the benefit of labor, management, owners and consumers.

Obama displayed a deep understanding of racial issues and how they divide us. Unfortunately, he also revealed a shallow understanding of capitalism, thus furthering our economic divide. He’s not the only politician doing so; he’s just the most eloquent at the moment.

Steve Buckstein is Senior Policy Analyst and founder of Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland-based think tank.