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Kansas City Star - Barack Obama Exudes Confidence

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Kansas City Star - Barack Obama Exudes Confidence

By Steve Penn

He despises the rock star label.

He would never invite Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez over to the house for a cold one.

As for the question of whether he's black enough to be president, that's one topic Sen. Barack Obama thinks is much ado over nothing.

Obama spoke Aug. 10 at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Las Vegas, then took questions from the Trotter Group, an organization of black columnists from across the nation.

What's obvious after being around Obama for a few hours is that he doesn't take too kindly to the labels the media have forced on him.

When he jumped into the race, the media declared he lacked substance. When he started drawing large crowds, he attracted the rock star title. That one was followed by the question, "Is he black enough?" Lately, Obama has been deflecting the "inexperienced" tag, criticism that emerged after Obama said he would be willing to meet with leaders of rogue nations hostile toward the United States.

"The argument was that I would invite Hugo Chavez over to my house, and we'd pop open a beer and we'd start talking," Obama explained to the Trotter Group. "That's the lack of preparation. There's no one that would meet another head of state without preparation. Preconditions refer to something specific. We've refused to talk to Iran until they meet preconditions."

Obama admitted that his willingness to try a new approach to foreign policy was his way of rocking the political boat.

"I've been trying to challenge some conventional wisdom," Obama said. "And the purveyors of conventional wisdom have gotten uncomfortable. I don't mind that discomfort. I think our foreign policy is all messed up."

Obama said he knew why he was garnering so much attention. He credited that to a unique concept in politics called change.

"People think there's a potential of me breaking up the game a little bit," Obama said. "I would bring new people into the process. I would engage folks who've been disenchanted by the politics of both the Democratic and Republican parties in Washington. They recognize that I'm an outsider breaking in."

Obama acknowledged that there were major inequities within the criminal justice system, especially when it came to federal sentencing guidelines. If he became president, he said, he would form a commission of judges, prosecutors and public defenders to study that unfairness.

"As president, I'd try to make sure our federal laws are not unjust," he said.

Obama never hears the question of whether he is black enough when he is "in the hood."

"There's an aspect of this that's cynical," Obama said. "Nobody asked if I was black enough when I became a U.S. senator. Everybody was happy to claim me. Everybody was proud as punch."

The question only emerged, he noted, after he started running a credible campaign for president.

"Did I change?" Obama asked rhetorically. "Did I start talking in a different way? Did I run away from any issues that were important to the African-American community?"

He acknowledged that his Harvard degree weighed into that perception.

"It feeds into a way of thinking about black identity that frankly I think is old," Obama said. "It's tired and has played itself out. It's this notion that if you have a certain education or you conjugate your verbs, somehow you're not keeping it real."

Obama kept it so real during our Q&A that he referred to his wife, Michelle, as "the Jackie O from the hood."

Obama exudes confidence. He tries to answer each question. And he can make his point without being too loquacious.

But for the last few weeks, he has been on defense over his controversial quotes. He is much more effective when he is on offense, trying to force the debate and challenge the status quo.

Yet Obama seems to be posting up quite effectively just a few ticks left of center on the political spectrum. That's his comfort zone.

And it is just enough space for voters to clearly differentiate between what they would be getting in him or Sen. Hillary Clinton.

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