Topeka Rising Democratic star U.S. Sen. Barack Obama on Friday wowed the party faithful at a record-breaking event as he outlined what he said was the difference between President Bush's values and traditional American values.
"The reason they don't believe that government has a role in solving national problems is because they think government is the problem," Obama said to approximately 1,500 people at the Kansas Democratic Party Washington Days convention.
Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, said Bush's political philosophy consists of giving tax breaks and encouraging "everyone to go buy your own health care, your own retirement and security, your own child care, your own schools, your own private security forces, your own roads, your own levees.
"It's called the ownership society. In our past there has been another name for it; it's called social Darwinism. Every man or woman for him or herself," he said.
Obama said Americans were desperate for leaders to lift the country over the politics of selfishness, anxiety and cynicism.
"We know that government can't solve all our problems, and we don't want it to.
"But we also know that there are some things we can't do on our own. There are some things we do better together.
"We have an individual responsibility but we also have a collective responsibility to each other," he said.
Republican Party Chairman Tim Shallenburger said most Kansans supported the president and national Democrats probably hurt Democrats' efforts in Kansas. "I don't see us losing ground," he said of this year's elections.
Obama, whose grandparents were from Augusta and El Dorado, compared their plight of starting a family during the Great Depression and World War II, with the uncertainty of today.
Obama, 44, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, the same year in which he gained prominence after his keynote address during the Democratic Party national convention.
While Obama's speech Friday focused on differences between Democrats and Republicans on the national scene, Kansas Democrats, vastly outnumbered by Republicans, welcomed GOP members.
"We believe that competence and qualifications are more important than politics and party labels," Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said speaking before Obama.
She said Democrats must "continue to build bridges to Kansans who are Democrats but they just don't know it yet."
Approximately 1,150 people paid $125 per plate to eat and hear Obama speak at the Ramada Inn Downtown, and another 200 paid $20 per ticket to watch the speech on closed-circuit television in an overflow room.
It was the largest Washington Days event in recent memory.
"I think Democrats are coming back," state Rep. Bob Grant, of Cherokee, said as he took in the crowd.
Democrats hope to make gains. In addition to Sebelius seeking her second term, U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, whose district includes east Lawrence, is seeking a fifth term. And Democrats believe they have a good shot at unseating Atty. Gen. Phill Kline with newly turned Democrat Paul Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney.
Numerous Lawrence politicians and party workers attended the event. Rep. Barbara Ballard led the crowd in singing the national anthem, and the Rev. Peter Luckey, a pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, led the prayer.
About 50 Kansas University Democrats made the trip.
"There are specific races that we will hold onto and also make some gains. I'm very excited about the Paul Morrison race," said Elizabeth Willard, a senior political science major from St. Louis.
Nate Thames, a senior from Wichita and vice president of the KU Democrats, said he was impressed with the turnout of KU students. "These are college kids on a Friday night coming to Topeka," he noted.