TOP-FORM OBAMA. Barack Obama is a natural in front of this crowd. He's shouting, they're standing, the room is roaring. He says he's walked on picket lines since his days as a community organizer after college, and that as president, if he hears workers rights are being compromised, "I'll have to find a comfortable pair of shoes."

He shouts, "I'm not new to this!" He imitates a candidate embracing labor for the first time: "Oh, you organize? The SEIU wears purple shirts?" Laughter. The implication is pretty clear: John Edwards, despite his work of recent years, doesn't have as long of a history with the SEIU. Now Obama's receiving another standing ovation as he criticizes Congressional Democrats for taking too much money from big business.

This speaking style is exciting. Obama sounds more like a civil rights leader today and a lot less like an overly cautious presidential candidate. He's doing call and response, and his one-liners are cutting. But this isn't a rhetoric Obama will take on the road outside of the SEIU convention -- or at least he hasn't yet. Maybe that's a good thing; maybe a civil rights preacher persona doesn't translate in Iowa. But if you don't see this Obama, the Obama today completely at home rabble-rousing among labor activists, you can't comprehend the fervor some of his progressive supporters feel.

"Just imagine what we can do together. Imagine having a president whose life work was your life work. Imagine having a president whose life story was like so many of your own."

--Dana Goldstein

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