Barack Obama speaks at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, detailing his commitment to making national service an important cause in his campaign. (REUTERS/Jason Reed)
His may be a unique and historic candidacy, but Barack Obama often casts himself as a spiritual descendant of American leaders before him, from Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to former senator Sam Nunn and the unheralded agitators of the Civil Rights Movement. But perhaps no legacy has played as prominent a role in Obama's political identity as that of John F. Kennedy, who became a beacon of hope and progress for post-war America.
Obama sought to cement that linkage in Iowa today with his latest -- and possibly his last -- major policy speech of the primary campaign. Addressing students at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Obama issued a "call to serve" and promised to increase national service opportunities. Obama was introduced by Harris Wofford, who helped found the Peace Corps and was a special assistant on civil rights during Kennedy's administration.
Obama called for doubling the size of the Peace Corps from 7,800 volunteers to 16,000 by its 50th anniversary in 2011; expanding the size and mission of AmeriCorps program; engaging retiring Americans in service and volunteer programs; and creating a national online network -- modeled on Craigslist -- that would connect volunteers to potential service opportunities.
"The sacrifices made by previous generations have never been easy," Obama said, according to prepared remarks. "But America is a great nation precisely because Americans have been willing to stand up when it was hard; to serve on stages both great and small; to rise above moments of great challenge and terrible trial."
He continued, "To restore America's standing, I will call on our greatest resource – not our bombs, guns, or dollars – I will call upon our people."
Read Obama's national service plan in full here.
UPDATE: Chris Dodd's campaign called to note that he unveiled a national service program back in June, including an expansion of the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps and tax breaks for employers whose employees volunteer.