July 6, 2008

Obama Addresses Supportive Crowd in St. Louis

By Jo Mannies, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Jul. 6--By Jo Mannies



ST. LOUIS -- U.S. Sen. Barack Obama on Saturday told a roaring crowd of religious African-Americans at the America's Center that they should have no doubt of his commitment to his Christian faith, his nation or his political principles.

In an address filled with religious and patriotic references, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president told delegates attending a national conference here of the African Methodist Episcopal Church that his career and his life revolved around his belief that, "I won't be fulfilling the Lord's will unless I'm doing the Lord's work."

Obama said his faith would continue to influence his performance and his politics if he wins the White House, and he recounted the strong role that churches have played in tackling numerous issues -- including slavery and women's rights -- facing Americans since the colonies declared independence 232 years ago.

Obama ignited repeated cheers and standing ovations as he reaffirmed his proposals to expand on faith-based government initiatives begun by President George W. Bush.

And in a pointed jab at the national news media, Obama singled out denomination leaders who he said could attest to reporters that "I've been talking about this for a couple years now. Don't think this is news."

"It is not part of a political strategy," Obama said with emphasis, his voice booming throughout the convention hall.

That reference appeared aimed, in part, at recent press scrutiny of Obama's comments on a variety of topics -- from faith-based initiatives to the war in Iraq -- for signs that he is retooling or moderating his positions.

On Iraq, for example, some -- including his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain -- have accused Obama of backing away from his campaign pledge to withdraw U.S. troops in 16 months.

While Obama was addressing the conference, McCain's campaign was circulating various media accounts and commentaries that raised questions about Obama's position on Iraq.

Conference organizers, meanwhile, said Saturday they had yet to hear from McCain, who also had been invited to address the gathering, which runs through Thursday. The African Methodist Episcopal denomination is one of the nation's oldest and largest minority religious groups.

Obama's visit was his second to Missouri in a week, and his second to St. Louis in the last month.

During Saturday's speech, Obama sought to underscore his political conviction by laying out several matters -- from outsized pay for corporate executives and lack of health coverage at home to genocide overseas -- where he asserted "our nation's conscience cannot rest" until the problem is tackled.

The crowd's cheers drowned out part of his words when Obama zeroed in on Iraq, declaring "We need to stop investing $10-$12 billion in Iraq" so that the nation would have more money for domestic matters.

However, Obama also made a point of saying that when U.S. troops return home, they must "be treated with the respect they deserve." That includes proper medical care, he said.


Obama called on parents to take on their proper roles.

"Only we in the home can teach our daughters to never allow images on television to tell them what they're worth," he said. "Only we as parents can make sure that when our sons grow up, that they treat women with respect and understand that when they have the ability to have a child, they must have the courage to raise a child."

Obama also said that most of the nation's challenges "of war and poverty, joblessness and homelessness, violence on the streets and in the public schools ... are not simple technical problems in search of a perfect 10-point plan. They are also moral problems rooted in social indifference and individual callousness."

His audience, estimated by organizers at 10,000, was unabashedly supportive. Dozens sported pro-Obama T-shirts, and the crowd spontaneously began shouting Obama's campaign slogan -- "Yes we can!" -- before he uttered a word.

The Rev. Marvin Sullivan, pastor of Ward Chapel AME Church in Florissant, praised Obama "an honest person who speaks from the heart."

Conference delegate Nona Simpkins, also of St. Louis, said that the enthusiasm had less to do with the fact that Obama also was African-American, and more to do with his message.

"He has the right agenda," she said.

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