Obama Highlights Service and Responsibility on Continuing Patriotism Tour
Updated 3:57 p.m.
By Jonathan Weisman
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Expanding on his themes of values, faith and patriotism, presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama exhorted Americans today "to step into the strong currents of history" and volunteer for service to country, pledging to dramatically expand opportunities for service to those accepting his challenge.
On a campaign swing that took him from a university setting to military bases, Obama emphasized his own love of country, defining it in ways that are at once patriotic and demanding.
"That's the bet our founding fathers were making all of those years ago -- that our individual destinies could be tied together in the common destiny of democracy; that government depends not just on the consent of the governed, but on the service of citizens," he told an audience at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. "That's what history calls us to do, because loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the 4th of July. Loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it. If you do, your life will be richer, and our country will be stronger."
All week, Obama has been striving to win over voters in Republican swathes of the country, defending his patriotism in Independence, Mo., Monday, pledging to expand federal assistance to religious social service groups in Appalachian Ohio yesterday and preaching service in conservative central Colorado today. On Thursday, he will be in Fargo, N.D., then will highlight the theme of family on Friday as he celebrates Independence Day in Butte, Mont., with his wife and two daughters. His older daughter, Malia, turns 10 that day.
Obama emphasized what he called "the enormity of the American accomplishment," touring Peterson Air Force Base here, viewing the ultra-secretive North American Aerospace Defense Command, U.S. Northern Command headquarters and the Air Force Academy. Colorado gave President Bush 52 percent of its vote in 2004, compared to 47 percent for Democratic Sen. John Kerry, but Colorado Springs' El Paso County was a far more lopsided 67 percent to 37 percent.
Yet Obama did not shy from partisan controversy as he spoke of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the readiness of Americans to serve in their wake, according to the speech.
"We were ready to step into the strong current of history, and to answer a new call for our country, but the call never came," he said. "Instead of a call to service, we were asked to go shopping. Instead of a call for shared sacrifice, we gave tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans in a time of war for the very first time in our history. Instead of leadership that called us to come together, we got patriotism defined as the property of one party, and used as a political wedge to take us into a war that should have never been authorized and never been waged."
At $3.5 billion a year, his service plan, laid out months ago and expanded only slightly today, has been derided by conservatives as Big Government, and its appeal is unclear. He would grow the AmeriCorps program established by President Bill Clinton by 250,000 slots, double the size of the Peace Corps by 2011, expand the Foreign Service and create an Energy Corps to conduct renewable energy and environmental cleanup projects. Veterans would be enlisted to help other veterans find jobs and support and a new Social Investment Fund Network would support the non-profit sector.
An American Opportunity Tax Credit would offer $4,000 to college students who perform 100 hours of public service. An already planned expansion of the Army and Marines by 92,000 would be fostered with pay increases, more family-friendly policies and an end to recruiting impediments such as "stop loss" decrees that prevent service members from leaving after their tours have ended.
To that he added a new component to allow veterans to use expanded education benefits under the newly passed GI Bill to seek training for renewable energy jobs.
Obama stressed his own experience, working after college as a community organizer for $12,000 a year, and his wife Michelle's role with AmeriCorps in Chicago.
"Through service, I found a community that embraced me, citizenship that was meaningful, the direction I'd been seeking," he counsels. "Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America."
The appeal may have an audience on university campuses and military bases full of young voters who have already taken up the service call.
"I think he's got a shot," said an Air Force officer at the speech, who requested anonymity so he was not seen as speaking for the service. "I think he's got real appeal with young people, all young people."
But Obama has a steep climb in the west. Colorado -- with a Democratic governor, one Democratic senator and an open Senate seat this November that leans toward a Democratic takeover, may be his most fertile opportunity here.
Democratic hopes around Colorado Springs have been dashed before. When Republican Rep. Joel Hefley retired in 2006, Democrats thought they had a shot at his Colorado Springs seat, given the anti-Republican tide and GOP candidate Doug Lamborn's ardently conservative campaign. Lamborn won with 59 percent of the vote.
Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), who won his seat the same year Kerry lost his state, said Obama was "exactly right" to campaign here, not to win it, but to win as much as he can.
"The ideal is to win; however, having been a veteran of three statewide races in six yrs, I know the reality of places like El Paso County," Salazar said.
Republicans here savaged Obama in a conference call, raising his past support for gun control and his private fundraiser tonight at the ritzy Broadmoor hotel, which they say is closed to avoid questions about former general Wesley Clark.
"He's come to an area with one of the largest military and veteran populations in the country," said State Rep. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs. "He's chosen to have private meetings because he knows the backlash he would experience here because of the actions of his surrogates."
North Dakota, where he will be campaigning Thursday, gave Bush 63 percent in 2004. Fargo's Cass County was only slightly closer, with a 59 percent-39 percent split. Montana was similarly deep red in 2004, although Silver Bow County, where Obama will be campaigning, is a union Democratic stronghold. Kerry won 57 percent of the vote there.
But Salazar said Obama is wisely taking on the velues issue head on.
"People want to know the values of the person they're voting for. I think it's a mistake for Democrats to run away from that values-based discussion," he said.
And in the issue of service, the Obama campaign believes the candidate has found a way to meld his calls for a more active government with an appeal to military-oriented voters and his own efforts to dispel stubborn notions that he lacks patriotism.
"There is a lesson to be learned from generations who have served -- from soldiers and sailors, airmen and Marines, suffragists and freedom riders, teachers and doctors, cops and firefighters," his speech concludes. "It's the lesson that in America, each of us is free to seek our own dreams, but we must also serve a common purpose, a higher purpose. When you choose to serve -- whether it's your nation, your community, or simply your neighbor -- you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans."
Web Politics Editor
July 2, 2008; 12:14 PM ET
Categories: Barack Obama
Save & Share: Previous: McCain Travels South, Searching for Message
Next: Schmidt Takes Over Day-to-Day Leadership of McCain Campaign
Posted by: DM | July 13, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: beautiful 11 | July 2, 2008 5:16 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Billw | July 2, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: seah | July 2, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: americafirst | July 2, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: None of the Above 08 | July 2, 2008 3:36 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Susan | July 2, 2008 2:03 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Jeffrey | July 2, 2008 1:57 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: abby0802 | July 2, 2008 1:45 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Anonymous | July 2, 2008 1:32 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: old joe | July 2, 2008 1:27 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Tra la la | July 2, 2008 1:21 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Dennis Moore, Washington, DC | July 2, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: PL | July 2, 2008 1:10 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: tomabrahams | July 2, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | July 2, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: JJ | July 2, 2008 12:53 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: PL | July 2, 2008 12:52 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: matt | July 2, 2008 12:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Tra la la | July 2, 2008 12:40 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.