Sen. Barack Obama is keeping his cool in the hothouse of a presidential race and promises if elected to reach out with carrot and stick to those who have hot words for this country.
Polls show the first-term Illinois senator gaining on "Hillaryland," the formidable and once seemingly inevitable political juggernaut that has spent years plotting a Clinton restoration at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Obama jokes about his good fortune. At least he did at the end of an interview at Sea-Tac Airport on Tuesday evening before his appearance at a Seattle fundraising event.
"It was over," Obama laughed, referring to commentators' early fall take on the Democratic presidential race. Hillary hagiography ran through The Washington Post and the U.S. capital's commentocracy.
"I don't believe the punditry when we are down, or the hype when we are up," he added.
The Obama campaign has started to resemble the assassin-aborted 1968 insurgency of Sen. Robert Kennedy, a campaign that crossed the racial chasm of the times and appealed to both blue-collar whites and ghetto blacks.
In his approach to governing, too, Obama evokes RFK, whose friends ranged from Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Maxwell Taylor to anti-Vietnam War activist Allard Lowenstein.
Obama promised to throw open the White House to a diversity of opinions, to invite debate before critical decisions and name people to senior positions who are "not necessarily members of my party."
"I like dissent," Obama said. "I like getting diverse viewpoints. It is how I make decisions. Get people with a wide range of views together -- try to get agreement on the basic facts. ... That's the model of decision-making I would adopt."
But Obama has a clear "top three" goals he would bring to the presidency.
The first, he said during Tuesday's interview, is to get the United States out of Iraq and "restore our standing in the world." The second is a workable health care plan that would take in the 47 million uninsured Americas.
The third goal is an energy plan that addresses climate change. Obama reiterated a pledge to "reach out" to leaders of other carbonemitting nations in hopes of getting a global accord on greenhouse gases.
No less a warrior than Winston Churchill once said, "It is better to jaw-jaw than war-war."
Obama has come under fire from Democratic rivals, and withering sarcasm from the Republican right, for promising to open communications with governments that the Bush administration shuns as evil.
"It's important to talk not only to those who are our friends, but to our enemies," Obama said during the interview.
He pledged "aggressive personal diplomacy" to restore America's reputation with erstwhile allies, but went on to say he would talk to such countries as Iran and Syria and Venezuela.
In doing so, Obama would put forth "both sticks and carrots."
Iran could be given a choice, he hinted. It could continue to be aggressively hostile toward Israel and develop nuclear weapons -- and face isolation -- or adopt a more cooperative stance and get help entering the World Trade Organization.
"I will do whatever it takes to keep America safe," Obama stressed.
Candidate-pundit Patrick Buchanan seemed to define the next 15 years of America's political confrontations when he told the 1992 Republican National Convention that the country was in the midst of a "cultural war," and a "religious war" for its soul.
In his book "The Audacity of Hope," Obama talks of coming to his Christian faith as an adult, and voices impatience with those on both sides of the country's cultural divide.
"One thing we've tried to do is talk of faith in this campaign ... to reach out to the evangelical community," he said Tuesday night.
At the same time, however, the Illinois senator spoke of America in terms of a much larger religious tent than that courted last week by Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
"We are not simply a Christian nation," Obama said. He described America as a religious mosaic that includes Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, and that "we are also a nation of non-believers."
Obama emphasized his friendship with evangelical leaders, and pledged to pursue "common ground" using the secular bully pulpit of the White House. "You can disagree without being disagreeable," he argued.
Obama would open up not only the White House, but also the government as a whole.
A former Harvard Law Review editor, he won a case before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Ahmad Baravati, a Chicago broker fired for becoming a whistle-blower when he witnessed fraud.
Obama praised laws on the books, but added, "The problem is we haven't had a very accommodating administration." He argued that President Bush presides over the most secretive and insular administration since Richard Nixon resigned the presidency 33 years ago.
"Transparency and account- ability in government are absolutely critical if we are to restore public trust in this nation's leadership," he argued.
He is gaining, and drawing fire. Earlier this year, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia ridiculed an early Obama statement on troop withdrawal from Iraq. If he were running al-Qaida, Howard snapped, he would "pray as many times as possible for a victory not only for Obama but also for the Democrats."
Obama coolly returned fire.
"I would also note that we have close to 140,000 troops on the ground now, and my understanding is that Mr. Howard has deployed 1,400," he said. "So if he's ginned up to fight the good fight in Iraq, I would suggest that he call up another 20,000 Australians and send them to Iraq. Otherwise, it's just a bunch of empty rhetoric."
Howard was voted out of office in a landslide last month.
Obama's fortunes are going in the opposite direction.