Obama: Service To Be A Cornerstone of Presidency

July 7, 2008 - 8:33 PM

Colorado Springs (AP) - Barack Obama urged people Wednesday to look past the "bustle and busyness" of their everyday lives this Fourth of July weekend to find a way to help make the American dream real not just for themselves, but for all.

The call for service is part of a flag-draped week focused on God, country, veterans and freedom. They are larger-than-life themes, all prominent in the successful campaigns of President Bush and aimed at introducing Obama to Americans who know little about the presumed Democratic nominee -- or who may be skeptical based on what they've heard.

Before a boisterous University of Colorado crowd, Obama said the quiet following Friday's Independence Day celebrations would be a good time to consider how to contribute "to our most pressing national challenges," whether in the military, overseas or just next door.

"I hope that you take a moment to think about what you can do to shape a country we love, shape its future," Obama said. "Loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the Fourth of July."

Obama talked in almost achingly intimate terms about the impact service had on him, as a boy who "spent much of my childhood adrift" and often had little idea "who I was or where I was going" because of his father's absence. But early in college, he said, values like hard work and empathy instilled by his mother and grandparents resurfaced "after a long hibernation." He eventually found himself working as a community organizer in a devastated South Side Chicago neighborhood, and said he was transformed.

Obama's call echoed Bush's "love a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself," an enduring staple of the president's political speeches of the last eight years. But Obama's campaign said the focus on service was meant not to recall Bush, but to reach back to President John F. Kennedy's generation-captivating "ask not what your country can do for you" inaugural address or President Clinton's creation of AmeriCorps.

To Obama, the problem is not that Americans are not willing to serve. It's that they have neither been asked aggressively enough nor given enough opportunities. In a clear slap to Bush, he decried that Americans eager to pitch in after the 2001 attacks were merely "asked to shop."

His solution is to promise repeated calls for American sacrifice as president and, to put teeth behind that, he has proposed a major expansion of government national service programs, first unveiled in Iowa in December, that would cost $3.5 billion a year. His campaign said he would fund this effort with savings from ending the war in Iraq and by canceling a new tax break for multinational corporations.

One new piece announced Wednesday would create a new "Green Vet Initiative" offering counseling, job placement and mediation with industry for veterans wanting to enter the rapidly expanding renewable energy field.

Other highlights include: increasing the all-volunteer military, expanding AmeriCorps, doubling the size of the Peace Corps, expanding service programs involving retired people, and creating a tax credit making the first $4,000 of college tuition free for students who conduct 100 hours of public service a year.

He avoided any criticism of Republican rival John McCain in the service speech, reserving that for much-applauded remarks he delivered by satellite to the United Steel Workers. Introduced by John Edwards, his former opponent for the Democratic nomination, Obama told the union's annual conference in Las Vegas that he respects McCain's accomplishments "even if he chooses to deny mine" but that the Arizona senator has little more to offer than a continuation of Bush's "tough luck, you're on your own" administration.

"We cannot afford to let John McCain serve out George Bush's third term," he said. "It's not change when John McCain decided to stand with George Bush ninety-five percent of the time."

Obama later paid a private visit to the U.S. Air Force Academy and Peterson Air Force Base and raised money for his campaign at a $1,000-per-person event at a luxury hotel.

On a fast ride from the academy to the hotel, a police officer in Obama's motorcade suffered minor injuries when his motorcycle crashed while blocking traffic for the entourage, the Secret Service said. Obama told the crowd of donors that he talked to the officer to convey his concern and was told "it's all part of the job."

"He is OK," Obama said. A campaign spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said the officer was released from the hospital.

As an unexpected entry in the battleground column for this November's election, Colorado is one of the chief places where Democrats see a chance to turn a reliably red state into a blue one.

In 2004, Democrat John Kerry made a play for the state but lost it 52 percent to 47 percent to Bush. But Obama chose it as one of the states where he is airing the opening television ads of his general election race. Its biggest city, Denver, was chosen to host the Democratic convention in August.

And Obama's choice of Colorado Springs, a home base for religiously oriented organizations and businesses, for his Colorado stop showed the degree to which he is courting Republican religious voters and trying to make McCain compete for their affections.

The visit brought Obama onto the turf of James Dobson, the popular and influential evangelical leader of Focus on the Family with whom Obama has sparred. A religious political action committee supporting Obama also has a new pro-Obama radio aid to highlight his faith -- and is airing it on Christian radio in Colorado Springs.


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