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."