Obama speech: Look past ‘bustle and busyness’
Vail, CO Colorado
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado ” In a bastion of the religious right, Barack Obama urged Americans Wednesday to look past the “bustle and busyness” of their everyday lives 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.
Before a boisterous University of Colorado crowd, Obama said the quiet following Friday’s Fourth of July celebrations would be a good time for every person to consider how they can 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 4th 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 the absence of his father. 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.
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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” address or President Clinton’s legacy of creating 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, a major proposed 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 the spending with some of the 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 YouthBuild, in which low-income young people build affordable housing; expanding service programs involving retired people and anyone over 55, 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.
As Republican rival John McCain was in Colombia promoting the benefits of free trade deals, Obama was addressing the United Steel Workers union’s annual conference in Las Vegas via satellite and burnishing his military credentials with a planned visit to the U.S. Air Force Academy and Peterson Air Force Base, both based here.
Former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was introducing Obama to the labor group.
Obama’s time here brought him onto the home turf of James Dobson, the popular and influential evangelical leader of Focus on the Family. Dobson recently said that Obama, in a 2006 speech, was “deliberately distorting” descriptions of Bible passages to suit his policies. Obama shot back that Dobson was “just making stuff up.”
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 religious center Colorado Springs for his visit Wednesday showed the degree to which he is courting Republican religious voters and trying to make McCain compete for their affections. A religious political action committee supporting Obama has a new pro-Obama radio aid to highlight his faith ” and is airing it on Christian radio in Colorado Springs, among other places.