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Time for Obama to show what's under blank slate

That Sen. Barack Hussein Obama Jr. chose the day of ''American Idol's'' season premiere to launch his presidential exploratory committee is nicely symbolic.

Part of the attraction and seductiveness of Obama - perhaps the main attraction - is that he is mostly a blank slate on which others can write what they choose. Now that he's announced formation of an exploratory committee to help him decide whether he should run for president (is there any doubt?), the moving fingers will begin writing soon enough.

Much of what Obama says resonates with many people, including me. In his exploratory committee announcement, which he recorded on video and put on his Web site (barackobama.com/video), he notes, ''how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics.'' There can be no question about that.

He also says, ''Our leaders in Washington seem incapable of working together in a practical, common-sense way. Politics has become so bitter and partisan, so gummed up by money and influence, that we can't tackle the big problems that demand solutions.'' Right again.

Then he says, ''We have to change our politics and come together around our common interests and concerns as Americans.''

Here is where things could get sticky. Obama is a liberal Democrat. He favors abortion rights, gun control and tax breaks for the middle class (though, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service, the top 1 percent of income earners pay nearly 35 percent of the income tax burden).

On which of these contentious issues might he compromise to diminish the bitterness and partisanship in politics? Would the left be bitter and partisan were he to pursue consensus on these issues?

It could be argued that much of the bitterness in politics has been caused by liberal elitists who have used the courts to ram social change down our throats without regard to the democratic process. I see Obama as being a part of this ideological strain.

Does he believe activist judges should interpret the Constitution through a left-wing prism and the people should have no say in such matters? Most liberals believe so.

If this were a contest about looks and style, Obama might have an edge. If it were a competition about which candidate is the best orator, he'd win. But it is neither. Regardless of party, a president must have the credentials and especially the worldview to be a credible leader.

He (or she) must also be respected, even feared, by those who hate and want to destroy America. Whether a president wins personality and popularity contests is irrelevant. It only matters that a president pursues American interests first.

Does Obama have such qualities and should a political neophyte, a former state senator from Illinois, with just two years of experience in the U.S. Senate, be hired for the world's most important job? Should voters exert blind faith that he is up to the challenge?

What is Obama's view about the threat from terrorists from without and within our country? He says the United States should never have gone to war in Iraq, that invading the country was a bad strategic blunder, but that having gone, we must make sure that Iraq is stable. Does he consider a stable Iraq with an elected and functioning government important enough to finish the job?

If not, would he accept responsibility for what would likely follow a withdrawal of U.S. troops, a withdrawal he proposed in November, such as a terror state that might launch attacks against its neighbors and recruit suicide bombers for missions inside the United States?

''Only through this phased redeployment can we send a clear message to the Iraqi factions that the U.S. is not going to hold together this country indefinitely - that it will be up to them to form a viable government that can effectively run and secure Iraq,'' Obama said. ''It is time to give Iraqis their country back, and it is time to refocus America's efforts on the wider struggle yet to be won.''

But what if, for whatever reason, Iraqis are not yet ready to bear full responsibility for their country and for the insurgency that seeks to permanently occupy it? Would he accept responsibility for such a gigantic policy failure? When you're president, you don't get to pass the buck.

These are the questions that need answering. We have a right to know what manner of individual aspires to the Oval Office, before we give him, or her, the honor, privilege and responsibility of the office.

In short, it's time to start writing on that blank slate and to seriously contemplate what's written there.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at cal@calthomas.com.

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