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Will Democrats Put Their Faith in Obama?

Sen. Barack Obama could provide a fresh start for Democrats in 2008, but he also could be portrayed as a neophyte.
Sen. Barack Obama could provide a fresh start for Democrats in 2008, but he also could be portrayed as a neophyte. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)

Obama, thin and straight, his feet dancing behind the lectern, seems to be enjoying his moment. Yesterday, he added to his prepared remarks little boasts such as "I was up 40 points in the polls." And the audience was enthralled -- except for Alan Colmes of Fox News, caught nodding off mid-speech.

The senator is in some ways a mirror image of Bush in '98. Where the current president was an avowed conservative who spoke liberals' language of compassion, Obama is a dedicated liberal who can converse fluently in the values talk of religious conservatives.

"Substantially more people in America believe in angels than they do in evolution," Obama told his listeners yesterday. Of social ills, he said: "Solving these problems will require changes in government policy; it will also require a change in hearts and minds." Contrast that with a stock Bush line: "Government can pass out money, but it cannot put love in a person's heart."

Just as Bush rhetorically took on the "leave us alone" conservatives in his party, Obama said he felt a "pang of shame" because his staff had put on his campaign Web site "standard Democratic boilerplate" that disparaged abortion foes. He also complained that Democrats had "taken the bait" by banishing any hint of faith, and said they should favor faith-based addiction programs, voluntary prayer in schools and references to God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

But, again following the Bush model, Obama accompanied these rhetorical gestures to the right with a down-the-line liberal agenda, all bathed in the language of morality: taking on gun manufacturers, spending more money on poverty programs, providing contraception education and fighting Republicans on taxes.

"We need an injection of morality!" he proclaimed -- but he was talking about the estate tax, not same-sex marriage.

The crowd was rapturous, giving Obama a far warmer reception than it gave two other senators this week, Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), both considered presidential contenders. "It's the most savvy, sophisticated look at this question by an American politician in a long time," Wallis gushed.

Enough to take Obama to the White House? Here, Wallis prayed for calm. "He'd be the first one to say he hasn't done much yet."

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