2 Speeches Show Contrasting Campaign Styles

By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 20, 2007

MANCHESTER, N.H., May 19 -- Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois used a commencement speech here Saturday to challenge graduates to rise above cynicism and selfishness, while in New Orleans, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York used a similar occasion to pledge a renewed federal commitment to aid the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The speeches by the two leading candidates for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination underscored the basic differences in their campaigns: Obama offering words of inspiration and hope for a new politics of citizen engagement that can transform the country, and Clinton providing a blueprint for putting government to work to deal with the problems afflicting ordinary Americans.

Obama has generated considerable enthusiasm on college campuses as a candidate who promises the sharpest break with the polarized politics of the past decade, while Clinton is counting on support from younger women to help fuel a potentially history-making campaign that is more grounded in the political establishment.

Obama spoke to the graduating class of Southern New Hampshire University, where he decried the political and media culture that he said prizes the inconsequential at the expense of the important.

"We see . . . a media culture that sensationalizes the trivial and trivializes the profound, in a 24-hour news network bonanza that never fails to keep us posted on how many days Paris Hilton will spend in jail but often fails to update us on the continuing genocide in Darfur or the recovery effort in New Orleans or the poverty that plagues too many American streets," he said.

The senator from Illinois urged the graduates to rise above a culture that "too often tells us our principal goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe and entertained, a culture where those in power too often encourage these selfish impulses."

Building his message on the themes of empathy for others, taking risks and persevering, Obama said much rides on whether the young generation rises to the challenges facing the country and the world, including fixing a broken health-care system, combating global climate change, stopping genocide in Darfur and restoring the U.S. image abroad.

"There are those who are betting against you, who say that you don't pay attention to what's going on, that you don't show up to vote, that you're too concerned with your own lives and your own problems to get engaged," he said. "That's not what I believe, and it's not what I've seen. I've seen rallies filled with crowds that stretch far into the horizon, thousands upon thousands signing up to organize online, scores who are coming to the very first political event of their lifetime."

Obama spoke in Manchester a few hours after sending about 600 volunteers into the neighborhoods of New Hampshire with a petition urging the state's two Republican senators to support efforts in Congress to end the war in Iraq. His advisers said it was one of the largest early-canvassing efforts by a presidential candidate in the state.

Clinton praised the Dillard University graduates for their commitment to a school that faced enormous challenges after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, but she coupled that with condemnation for the response of the federal government. "On everything from emergency response to rebuilding public works to restoring essential services, the federal government has failed us," she said.

Clinton described the aftermath of the disaster as "a national disgrace -- and an international embarrassment." She outlined the steps she said she would take as president to ensure that New Orleans is rebuilt.

"Rebuilding this city is not a New Orleans obligation or a Louisiana obligation," she said. "It is an American obligation."

Clinton said her action plan includes the elevation of the rebuilding director to White House status, with regular contact with the president; establishing a new Gulf Coast Corps aimed at attracting workers to the region; improving hurricane-protection systems and disaster-response planning; providing more affordable housing; and renovating the region's schools.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company