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Obama's national call to service

From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Obama called public service a responsibility of citizenship and said Americans should "think about what you can do to shape the country that we love."

That theme echoed the familiar lines of John F. Kennedy's January 1961 inaugural address when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

VIDEO: Filling in for Sen. Edward Kennedy, Sen. Barack Obama told Wesleyan's class of 2008, "Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America.

In a speech that was mainly a comprehensive repackaging of proposals Obama has been talking about for months, the presumptive Democratic nominee laid out a plan to encourage service by expanding AmeriCorps, doubling the size of the Peace Corps, expanding the Foreign Service and increasing the size of the U.S. military to ease the burden on troops. 

The proposal would integrate community service into education at all levels by making federal assistance to school districts conditional on the development of service programs and tying college tuition credits to community service. It would also encourage veterans and retirees to give back to their communities and help nonprofits expand successful programs.

The plan would cost about $3.5 billion per year when it is fully implemented, according to the campaign fact sheet. Obama would pay for it in part by ending the war in Iraq and cancelling provisions that help multinational corporations pay less in U.S. taxes on income earned abroad.

After a three-week economic tour, Obama has been spending the week leading up to the Fourth of July talking less about new policy and more about a larger vision for America and his love for the country. He spoke about what patriotism meant to him on Monday in Missouri about helping faith-based groups provide social services in Ohio on Tuesday and will discuss honoring and taking care of veterans tomorrow in North Dakota before celebrating Independence Day with his family in Montana – all states that voted Republican in 2004.

The geography of this week's swing is the latest evidence of a campaign that aims to expand the electoral map and to appeal to voters across party lines.

"I'm determined to reach out -- not just to Democrats, but to Independents and Republicans, to every single American who wants to move this country in a new direction," Obama said. "That's why I won't just ask for your vote as a candidate -- I will ask for your service and your active citizenship when I am President of the United States. This won't be a call issued in one speech or one program -- this will be a central cause of my presidency. We will ask Americans to serve. We will create new opportunities for Americans to serve. And we will direct that service to our most pressing national challenges."

As he often does, the Illinois senator linked the topic of the day to his own life, touching on his days as a community organizer in Chicago and talking about how community service had taught him more about what it means to be an American.

"Through service, I found a community that embraced me; citizenship that was meaningful; the direction that I'd been seeking," he said. "Through service, I discovered how my own improbable story fit into the larger story of America."

Calling public service an American responsibility, he hailed the service of those in the military, but also of teachers, diplomats, firefighters and others and mentioned the tragedy of September 11th as a moment when Americans came together to help one another but also an opportunity that was missed, as people were asked not to sacrifice but to go shopping.

"Instead of a call for shared sacrifice, we saw tax cuts go to the wealthiest Americans in a time of war," he said. "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 and we ended up going into a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged."

In closing, he reprised a theme he used often during the long primary season as he fought to overcome a better-known rival who had been heavily favored to win. He asked people to ignore the cynics and to believe in the potential for unity among diverse groups.

"I know what the cynics will say. I've heard from them all my life. These are the voices that will tell you -- not just what you can't do -- but what you won't do. Americans won't come together -- our allegiance doesn't go beyond our political party, or our race, or our region, or our religion, our congregations," he said. "Young Americans they won't serve their country -- they're too selfish, they're too apathetic, they're too lazy. This is the soft sell of the status quo, the voice that tells you to settle because settling isn't that bad. That's not the America that I've seen throughout this campaign."

After the event, Obama was set to visit nearby Peterson Air Force base, which houses NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) and Northcom (US Northern Command), and to visit the U.S. Air Force Academy, trips an aide said were set up by his Senate office.