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Obama Newsweek Excerpts: 'The Audacity of Hope'

Excerpts from this week's Newsweek cover story below:

"One party seems to be defending a moribund status quo, and the other is defending an oligarchy," he says coolly. "It's not a very attractive choice."

Obama doesn't believe that John Kerry lost because of "moral values." It's much more complicated than that. But he knows that the cultural divide and issues like gay marriage and abortion played a role, and that Kerry actually lost among his fellow Roman Catholics.

"My mother saw religion as an impediment to broader values, like tolerance and racial inclusivity. She remembered churchgoing folks [in Kansas and Texas] who also called people niggers. But she was a deeply spiritual person, and when I moved to Chicago [after graduating from Columbia] and worked with church-based community organizations, I kept hearing her values expressed in the church." That tapped into "the hurt and pain" he felt as a fatherless biracial child and spoke to his sense of "the fragility and power and mystery of life."

The Democrats, Obama believes, need to speak to that power and mystery, too. He stops short of calling for a "religious left" to counter the political power of the religious right, but he wants the party to reconnect to what he sees as its roots in a moral imperative: "This shouldn't be hard to do. Martin Luther King did it. The abolitionists did it. Dorothy Day [of the Catholic Workers] did it. Most of the reform movements that have changed this country have been grounded in religious models. We don't have to start from scratch."

But Obama does call for a "new narrative" that simultaneously offers fresh solutions for problems like outsourcing (he hastens to add that he doesn't have them yet) and restores "timeless values." Unlike many liberals, he readily admits that a faction of the Democratic Party during the 1960s twisted the American tradition of individualism into "licentiousness" and rejected the party's older values of family, community and faith. Ever since, he says, the Republicans have caricatured the Democrats for ignoring these values, a line of assault that has proved especially effective because communal and moral values were exactly what gave the Democrats their advantage in the mid-20th century.

"They attacked our strengths," Obama says. When Democrats lost these deeper moorings, their economic message rang hollow: "People figured, 'At least with Bush, I can go hunt with my friends and my wife can go to church'," he says, adding that for men who remember hunting with their dads, say, or women who enjoyed going to church with their grandmother or granddaughter, these cultural concerns become family issues that cut deep.

The task now, Obama says, is not to back off on any particular
issue but to at least open these cultural subjects for discussion again—and for Democrats to "reclaim and reassert in very explicit language that our best ideas rise out of communal values."

And Obama remains concerned about how some Democrats may go about finding religion. "It's dangerous to try to engineer this in some synthetic way through the party. If it's not organic, it comes off as phony. People can sniff it out," he cautions. "Democrats have to say to themselves, 'What are the values we care most deeply about?' then do the hard spiritual work ahead of time. You can't every once in a while just throw in the word 'God'."

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