Paul Greenberg

Ever notice how Barack Obama handles a question from a real person, as opposed to one of us annoying media types? Even a question that challenges his position? It's a thing of beauty.

Watch him at one of his forums. He listens patiently, nods his head sympathetically, and seems to share his questioner's point of view. He identifies.

He then begins his answer by restating the question, often enough in more persuasive form than the original. He doesn't so much entertain a question as improve it.

Only after he has established a bond between himself and his critic does he present his own, different point of view, carrying the questioner and the rest of the audience with him every respectful step of the way. Soon it's his critic who is nodding sympathetically, understandingly. Barack Obama has made another friend and supporter.

This is the approach he adopted to address the God-damn-America rhetoric of his old pastor - and rise above it. By the time he was finished, he'd actually turned a political embarrassment to his advantage in what soon became known as The Speech, an instant classic of American rhetoric.

If Barack Obama ever tires of his day job, he'd make a good editorial writer, for he has grasped the essence of the assignment: Appeal to the community's own standards, and at the same time raise them. It's called raising the level of public discourse, and it should be the end of every exercise in rhetoric. It's quite a trick, but Sen. Obama has mastered it when dealing with the issues.

It's when the talented Mr. Obama takes to analyzing people the same way he does issues, like some social scientist weighing us in the balance, that he gets into trouble. Real trouble. As he did when he analyzed the benighted inhabitants of deepest, darkest Pennsylvania during a private fund-raiser - in mod San Francisco, of all unfortunate places. That's when he committed the following masterpiece of two-bit psychology:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and . . . the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing's replaced them. It's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

It was a revealing comment - not about people in small-town Pennsylvania and their counterparts all across America, but about Barack Obama. It revealed him as another smooth talker as glib as he is condescending. Note the way he just threw religion in there as one more harbor for America's disgruntled along with guns, opposition to free trade, anti-immigrant feelingsŠ.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.