Senator Barack Obama of Illinois is cheered as he speaks at a campaign rally today in Des Moines. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
DES MOINES -- Barack Obama had a pointed message this morning for his opponents in the Democratic primary race: Don't tell me what it takes to make change.
Delivering a newly freshened stump speech designed to sum up his case for the presidency, Obama sought to counter two distinct arguments that his rivals have used against him in the run-up to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
The argument from John Edwards is that Obama lacks the toughness and the fight to truly change Washington. The argument from Hillary Clinton is that Obama is merely hoping for change and not tested enough to see it through. Obama, addressing several hundred supporters at a banquet hall in downtown Des Moines, today offered a forceful rebuttal, saying he didn't "need any lectures about how to bring about change."
But the battle over the next week, Obama said, will be about more than just the meaning of the word change. It will be, he said, about the meaning of hope.
"Some of my opponents appear scornful of the word. They think it speaks to naivete, passivity, and wishful thinking," Obama said. "But that's not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. It's not ignoring the enormity of the task before us, or the roadblocks that stand in our path ... I know this will be hard. I know it. But I also know this. I know that hope has been the guiding force behind the most important changes this country has ever made."
Obama accused Clinton, although not by name, of having it both ways in trying to run as the experienced Washington hand while promising to usher in what she calls "a new beginning."
"You can't at once argue that you're the master of a broken system in Washington and then offer yourself as the person to change it," he said. "You can't fall in line behind the conventional thinking on issues as profound as war and then offer yourself as the leader who's best prepared to chart a new and better course for America."
Clinton spokesman Phil Singer responded in a statement saying, "Now is not the time for political attacks, it's time to pick a president who can give us a new beginning in a time of war and a troubled economy. There are big stakes in this election - Iowans are going to pick the candidate best able to make the change we need starting on day one and that candidate is Hillary Clinton."
Obama said the high stakes were precisely why voters should look past the more conventional choices in this election and reach for something transformative.
"The real gamble in this election is playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and expecting a different result," he said. "That's a risk we can't take. Not this year."