Will political reporters get it?

obama speaking at a churchSen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., does not seem to be running for president in 2008. That doesn't mean he will not do so, just that he is not laying the necessary framework to make a run at the Democratic nomination. He's certainly soaking up the praise and good favor of his colleagues as major media outlets continue the drumbeat promoting the nation's only African American senator. Sunday's Washington Post front page continued the newspaper's trend of featuring big-name politicians who are considered potential 2008 presidential candidates. The article also continued a trend of ignoring an issue that other reporters at the WaPo have attempted to promote in their coverage of the "religious left." Plenty of room is made for discussing Obama's political assets and liabilities, but little room is made for discussing his religious convictions and how various religious communities around the country see him:

At age 44, the former Harvard Law School standout has little baggage. But Obama also has a scant legislative record in the Senate, where some members privately say they view him as drawn to news conferences and speeches more than to the hard details of lawmaking.

He has yet to carve out a distinctive profile on the policy and ideological debates that are central to how Democrats will position themselves in a post-Bush era.

In his stump speech, he offers a standard Democratic criticism of President Bush's tax cuts as favoring the rich, and promotes energy independence with only modest detail about how to achieve it. Nor does he dwell on the Iraq war, assailing the administration's handling of the conflict but not addressing such questions as a timetable for troop withdrawal.

Instead, it is almost entirely Obama's biography, along with his gift for engaging people in large audiences and one-on-one encounters, that is driving interest.

obama churchThe article hints twice at Obama's religious beliefs. Once here:

Invitations he has turned down included a chance to be Stanford University's commencement speaker, because he tries to spend Sundays at home in Chicago with his wife, Michelle, and their two young daughters.

And once here:

Onstage, Obama carries audiences along with self-deprecating jokes and gently rhythmic riffs that accent his main points. With a comic's timing, he gets big laughs describing how he reacted when friends first urged him to run for the Illinois Senate. "I prayed on it," he says, pausing briefly. "And I asked my wife." He adds that "those higher authorities" gave their assent.

As the political image of Obama fills out on the national stage, it will be interesting to how he presents his religious beliefs and it will also be worth noting whether the national political reporters covering him pick up on this. As seen with Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, a prominent individual's faith can garner much attention, but it also takes a good reporter who gets religion to pick up on it.

Top and bottom photos courtesy of Flickr.

p.s. This Chicago Sun-Times article from April 2004 shows the challenge of writing about the faith of someone as complicated as Obama:

"I am a Christian," the 42-year-old Illinois state senator and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate says, as one of the nearby customers interrupts to congratulate him on his recent primary win. Obama shakes the man's hand and says, "Thank you very much. I appreciate that," before turning his attention directly back to the question.

"So, I have a deep faith," Obama continues. "I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.

"That there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived."

I missed most of the 2004 coverage of Obama's Senate race, as I was entrenched in southwest Virginia, but as his speech before the Democratic Convention shows, Obama's faith is a big part of who he is.

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