Discuss as:

Obama calls for national service

From NBC/NJ's Aswini Anburajan
MT. VERNON, IA -- If there was any doubt that Obama models himself after John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr. -- as a leader known to be a change agent by his vision for the future -- nothing showed it more than today's speech on national service here at Cornell College.

In Obama's call to the young people assembled in the room around him, he tried to project himself as a leader beyond the day-to-day back and forth in the Democratic primary and the larger partisan divisions between Republicans and Democrats. His message was reinforced by the endorsement of Harris Wofford, a former Pennsylvania senator from Pennsylvania who helped start the Peace Corps under Kennedy

Obama told the story of his start as a community organizer, saying that he wanted to "step into the currents of history." That message of historical change played well in front of the college-aged audience tucked away in small Iowa town. It sought to light a fire in the crowd, one that would bring them to caucus on a cold January night, even if they were not from Iowa and had to travel back to school to caucus. 

Unlike Bush, Obama said, "he would not let the moment pass" to call on Americans to do something greater than themselves. Reaching out to seniors and college students through part-time and full time service programs, Obama called for a classroom corps and an energy corps; doubling the Peace Corps; and creating incentives to volunteer (through things like tax credits).

In his speech, Obama appeared to be using national service as a bridge to bring Americans together, and to show that he could fill the large shoes of the leaders that came before.   

But is this image working? He appears to be winning over college students. In the sleet and snow last night, students trudged through campuses and yelled and cheered as Obama gave speeches at Grinnell and the University of Iowa. At these rallies with students, he uses a speech he first debuted in Spartanburg, SC, focusing more on creating a vision that is post-partisan, humanistic and global -- rather than the nitty gritty of how to create universal health care, for example.

The best example of this: Obama just received an endorsement from the "Iowa State Daily," the college newspaper of Iowa State. "He may be raw. He may be too optimistic. But he has ignited a passion for a change in the direction this country is headed," the editorial says.