Democrats' Anti-Bush-Basher

Barack Obama, the Democrats' keynote speaker this week, looked like a promising choice. Newspaper and magazine profiles had portrayed him as the embodiment of the American dream: Son of a white mother from Kansas and black father from Kenya who grew up to become the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, and who now looks as if he'll be the next US senator from Illinois.

For convention delegates in Boston, and most likely for millions of television viewers as well, that sketch sprang to inspiring life when the lanky state senator, virtually unknown before Tuesday night, began talking. It wasn't just that he seemed a natural orator who knew how to pace his words and what to do with his hands. It was more what he said.

Rejecting the political divisiveness that has turned America into "red" and "blue" states, and Washington into a vortex of bitter partisanship, Mr. Obama took off on a riff based on e pluribus unum - out of many, one.

"There's not a liberal America and a conservative America - there's the United States of America. There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America," he said, pointedly casting aside the politics of special interest groups.

That's not something politicians, pundits, and pollsters usually say, since they too often put Americans in neat, little boxes of ideology, race, or religion. But Obama drew a larger box, one with a welcomed inclusiveness. As Alan Wolfe, author of "One Nation, After All," points out, Americans are diverse, but feel similarly on many topics.

Obama also exuded optimism. Two days of convention speechifying had concentrated heavily on what the other side has done wrong. That's part and parcel of the term "political opponent." But ultimately, it was more motivating to hear this man embracing the "audacity of hope" that comes from "the belief in things not seen."

His talk would have seemed like so much rhetoric if his political life wasn't such an example. In this year's primary race for the US Senate, Obama swept mostly white wards with histories of antiblack voting. In the state senate, where he has represented part of the rough-and-tumble south side of Chicago for seven years, he persuaded even death penalty advocates that police interrogations of suspects in capital crimes should be videotaped.

There is a place in American politics for differences and for one party to try to persuade the other of its views. But before the nation stand important issues that require bipartisanship: the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, for instance, as well as Social Security reform, seemingly elusive healthcare reform, and stubborn dependence on Middle East oil.

Watch for Obama as a rising Democratic star. More importantly, watch to see what happens to his message.

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