Sept. 7, 2008— -- Sen. Barack Obama said he was "puzzled" when Gov. Sarah Palin scoffed at his early career as a community organizer, which he said was just the kind of "country first" action that the Republicans should endorse.
"It's curious to me that they would mock that, when I, at least, think that that's exactly what young people should be doing," the Democratic presidential nominee said in an exclusive interview on "This Week."
Palin got a big laugh at the Republican National Convention last week when she said that her former job as a small town mayor was sort like a community organizer, "only with responsibilities." GOP keynote speaker Rudy Giuliani even laughed when he said the words "community organizer."
Obama told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that he moved to Chicago when he was 24 and was a community organizer for the next three years.
Obama said he "worked with churches, who were dealing with steel plants that had closed in their neighborhoods, to set up job training programs for the unemployed and after-school programs for youth, and to try to deal with asbestos in homes with poor people -- community service work -- which John McCain has been talking about, putting country first and extolling the virtues of national service.
"I would think that's what we want all our young people to do. I would think that that's an area where Democrats and Republicans would agree," Obama said.
He went on to accuse the Republican ticket of trying to steal his campaign theme of "change."
"For folks who suddenly have tried to grab the change banner, you know, they've got a very traditional view of what service means," Obama said. "You know, it means, running for office and being a politician, I guess. Or serving in the military. I mean, those are the two options that I think they've talked about.
"I think there are a whole lot of people, young people in particular, who are teaching in under-served schools or working in a hospital in need, you know, volunteering for their community, that think that's part of the change that we need," Obama said.
The Democratic candidate said he briefly considered joining the military after graduating high school, but decided against it.
"I graduated in 1979. The Vietnam War had come to an end. We weren't engaged in an active military conflict at that point. And so, it's not an option that I ever decided to pursue," he said.
Obama also suggested that the McCain was behind persistent rumors that Obama is a Muslim rather than a Christian.
"These guys love to throw rocks and hide their hand," Obama said, referring to the Republicans.
Reminded that McCain and his top aides have denied pushing the Muslim rumor, Obama said the rumor is "being promulgated on Fox News ... and Republican commentators who are closely allied to these folks."
He later added, "What I think is fair to say is that coming out of the Republican camp there have been efforts to suggest that perhaps I'm not who I say I am when it comes to my faith."
Praises Gov. Sarah Palin as "Skilled Politician"
Obama praised Palin as a "skilled politician," but said her selection as a running mate for McCain brought the Republican ticket more in line with the policies of President Bush.
"He chose somebody who may be even more aligned with George Bush – or Dick Cheney, or the politics we've seen over the last eight years – than John McCain himself is," Obama said in his first Sunday show appearance since accepting the Democratic presidential nomination.
Offering further response to the Republican convention, Obama made clear that McCain isn't the only presidential candidate willing to break with his party.
At his speech accepting the Republican nomination for president, McCain repeatedly emphasized his record of bipartisanship, and questioned Obama's commitment to that principle.
"I've worked with members of both parties to fix problems that need to be fixed," said McCain. "I have that record and the scars to prove it. Senator Obama does not."
But Obama called into question McCain's commitment to changing the tone in Washington.
"For John McCain to say that he wanted to reduce the rancor in Washington... it sounds to me like he didn't listen to the first two days of his convention," said Obama.
When asked for examples of issues where he would consider breaking with his party, Obama offered three.
"I think that, on education, we do have to improve accountability. And I've not only supported charter schools, which the teachers' unions have opposed, but I've also said that we should look at pay-for-performance," he said. "That's not something that's popular in my party."
Obama said he would also support increasing the size of the military and reducing healthcare litigation costs, moves he said would anger portions of his party.
Speaking about abortion Obama said that his response on the definition of human life at Rick Warren's Saddleback Forum was too flip.
When asked last month at what point a baby gains human rights, Obama said last month "that whether you're looking at it from a theological perspective or a scientific perspective, answering that question with specificity, you know, is above my pay grade."
But Obama told Stephanopoulos "what I intended to say is that, as a Christian, I have a lot of humility...all I meant to communicate was that I don't presume to be able to answer these kinds of theological questions."
Obama went on to explain, "that abortion is a moral issue, that it's one that families struggle with all the time. And that in wrestling with those issues, I don't think that the government criminalizing the choices that families make is the best answer for reducing abortions."
Challenges Palin to Basketball Contest
"The better answer...is to figure out, how do we make sure the young mothers, or women who have a pregnancy that's unexpected or difficult, have the kind of support they need to make a whole range of choices, including adoption and keeping the child," he said.
Reacting to the latest economic news of the day Obama said he is inclined to support a government plan to place mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac under federal control.
"I'm inclined to support some form of intervention to prevent a long-term, much bigger crisis," he said.
Obama said he was briefed on the plan by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson in a Friday night phone call. According to published reports, Treasury officials told executives Friday that the government would temporarily take control of the mortgage companies and inject them with capital, allowing the companies to continue playing a crucial role in the housing market, where they currently are responsible for nearly 70 percent of new loans.
But Obama said he'll only support such a government takeover if shareholders and executives of Fannie and Freddie don't profit from it.
"We are not bailing out shareholders and investors and management," said Obama. "They were making a lot of money because of the lack of regulation. All those profits were private. We don't want to make all those losses suddenly public and they get away without taking a haircut."
Obama said the Treasury plan, which could be announced later this weekend, should be only the first step in reforming the housing markets.
"We're going to have to take a look at how we regulate the financial markets and mortgage markets going forward," he said.
Looking forward to the final 60 days of the election, it appears the rivalry between the Democratic and Republican tickets for president could shift from the ballot box to the hardwood if Obama has his way. Obama jokingly concluded his interview with Stephanopoulos saying he would be open to going one-on-one in basketball with Sarah Palin.
"You know, I would play her a game of horse," said Obama. "She looks like she's got some game."
Palin was a standout high school basketball player whose skills on the court earned her the nickname Sarah Barracuda. But Obama said he doesn't fear her.
"On the basketball court, I think I'd stand up pretty well," he said.
Still, Obama said he wouldn't want to go head-to-head with Palin in another sport: target shooting.
"I know she's a sharpshooter, and I know that -- I probably wouldn't do target practice with her," he said. "I think she'd be a better shot than me."
The idea of an Obama-Palin basketball match-up was suggested by Linda Lilley, a viewer from Union City, Pa., who submitted her question for Obama on ABCNews.com.