Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., left, mingles with the crowd outside Breaking New Grounds café in Portsmouth on Sunday.
Photo by Don Clark
PORTSMOUTH -- Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., insists America is a country of hope and decency, a country that pays attention when it matters, a country of hard workers who are tired of listening to politicians and want grassroots change.
He preached that message to a seemingly converted standing-room-only crowd at the Frank Jones Center Sunday morning, amid mounting murmurs that a presidential candidacy is all but inevitable -- although Obama has said he will not be making that decision until January.
As dozens of television cameras rolled and journalistic luminaries such as Maureen Dowd of The New York Times took notes, Obama talked easily and extemporaneously about his vision for America while ostensibly touting his new book, "The Audacity of Hope."
The title, he said, was that of a sermon given by the minister of his church in Chicago, which he attends regularly.
"He said it's the easiest thing in the world for us to feel cynical," said Obama, ticking off violence, war and poverty as among many reasons. "The temptation is to say we can't change much. We can't expect to actually make a difference. What's hard, what's audacious, is to believe we can make a better country. To not ignore these things, but still insist we can do something about it."
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Obama said the history of America is replete with moments when "rabble-rousers, troublemakers and dreamers said, We can do better.'" As examples, he pointed to the American Revolution, abolitionists, women fighting for the right to vote, and workers organizing against low pay and poor working conditions.
It is waking up the mass of Americans, that's the trick, he said.
In the last election, he said, "I thought I started to see a glimmer of hope. For the first time in a long time, the voters are paying attention. They're asking the tough questions" on health care, the war in Iraq, energy policy, the climate of politics in Washington.
"At the core, the American people are decent people" who "get confused sometimes" by "the chatter on the talk show circuit" -- a veiled reference to Republican operative Ed Rogers' comments on " Chris Matthews' Hardball" about Obama's middle name of Hussein.
Obama said American is at a tipping point right now with "a series of important decisions to make. And we have the opportunity to make them not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans."
He quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who said, "The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.' An arc that bends toward justice," he said. "That is the essence of hope."