Even Conservative Media Chorus Sings Obama's Praises

Conservatives with kind words for Obama after his Iowa victory include, from left, Joe Scarborough, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Bennett.
Conservatives with kind words for Obama after his Iowa victory include, from left, Joe Scarborough, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Bennett. (By Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Barack Obama, now the media's odds-on favorite to win the White House, is drawing effusive praise from the chattering classes.

"You'd have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this. . . . This is a huge moment," one commentator wrote.

An unreconstructed liberal? An African American hungering for a racial breakthrough? No, it was David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, and he's got plenty of company on the right.

The media overall are being swept up by a wave of Obamamania, in which normally hard-bitten journalists watch the orator in action and come away dazzled by his gifts. A New York Times piece Saturday compared the Illinois senator to JFK and Martin Luther King in the same paragraph. A Newsweek cover story out yesterday gushed that Obama, "tall and handsome and blessed with a weighty baritone, knows how to bring along a crowd while seeming to stay slightly above it." The journalistic scrutiny usually visited on instant front-runners has been replaced by something akin to a standing ovation.

What's more, the applause extends even to pundits on the right, many of whom routinely denigrate Democratic politicians and yet are strikingly warm toward Obama. There is gratitude, to be sure, that he seems poised to knock off their longtime bete noire, Hillary Clinton -- especially if he wins today's New Hampshire primary -- but also admiration for his inclusive approach to politics and for his sheer talent.

"Who's not proud of this kid?" says Amanda Carpenter, national political reporter for the conservative site Townhall.com. "He has a story people feel good about."

In the wake of Obama's remarks about unity on the night of his Iowa caucus victory Thursday, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman and self-described conservative, called it "one of the most remarkable speeches I've ever seen."

Bill Bennett, the conservative author, said on CNN that it was a "remarkable breakthrough" for "Barack Hussein Obama, a black man," to win in a "rural, white farming state." Rush Limbaugh added his voice on the radio, saying that Obama and Mike Huckabee, the Republican winner in Iowa, "had really uplifting, inspirational speeches."

The Weekly Standard called Obama "the classiest candidate on the Democratic side." Peggy Noonan, the former Ronald Reagan speechwriter, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Obama had won "with a classy campaign, an unruffled manner, and an appeal on the stump that said every day, through the lines: Look at who I am and see me, the change that you desire is right here, move on with me and we will bring it forward together."

What explains these cross-party kudos?

"There's clearly a matter of heart going on here," Bennett says after his morning radio show. "He's a cool guy, a handsome guy, has a fabulous voice. A leading Democratic candidate, a black man in America, and he does not talk about race, does not play the race card. It appeals to the better angels of all our natures."

Scarborough dismisses the notion that some conservatives are talking up Obama in the belief that he would be a weak general-election opponent. "I get e-mails from Republicans, who've never voted for a Democrat before, saying they were tearing up during his Iowa speech," he says from New Hampshire. "I don't think they're being calculated and cynical. This is so damn great for America."

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