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THE TRAIL

Monday, May 26, 2008

KENNEDY ECHOES

Obama Urges Grads To Serve Country

MIDDLETOWN, Conn. -- Hundreds of diplomas were handed out Sunday at Wesleyan University, and one baton was passed.

Barack Obama agreed last week to fill in for Edward M. Kennedy as Wesleyan's commencement speaker after his fellow Democratic senator was found to have a cancerous brain tumor.

Obama, whose legions of young supporters have already recalled memories of John F. Kennedy's idealistic followers in the early 1960s, explicitly invoked JFK's New Frontier, as well as the rest of the Kennedy family, as he exhorted the Wesleyan graduates to dedicate themselves to public service.

"I was born the year that . . . John called a generation of Americans to ask their country what they could do. And I came of age at a time when they did it," Obama said. He concluded that today's students should likewise consider giving themselves to a broader cause because "you have an obligation to yourself."

"Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation," he added. "Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you'll play in writing the next great chapter in America's story."

The speech bore strong echoes of Obama's campaign message, though his call for voluntarism and service differed in one key regard. On the stump, Obama gets big applause by saying he would as president offer all college students a $4,000 tax credit to help pay for school -- but only if they commit to public service, such as the Peace Corps or teaching in an inner-city school or working in a homeless shelter.

But he argued Sunday that public service should be unbidden. "Each of you will have the chance to make your own discovery in the years to come. And I say 'chance' because you won't have to take it," he said. "There's no community-service requirement in the real world, no one forcing you to care. You can take your diploma, walk off this stage, and chase only after the big house and the nice suits and all the other things that our money culture says you should buy. You can choose to narrow your concerns and live your life in a way that tries to keep your story separate from America's. But I hope you don't."

Near the close of the speech, he made the link between himself and John Kennedy most explicit -- and in the process voiced some of the increased confidence he has been showing about his chances as the likely Democratic presidential nominee.

"You know, Ted Kennedy often tells a story about the fifth-anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps. He was there, and he asked one of the young Americans why he had chosen to volunteer. And the man replied, 'Because it was the first time someone asked me to do something for my country,' " Obama said. "I don't know how many of you have been asked that question, but after today, you have no excuses. I am asking you, and if I should have the honor of serving this nation as president, I will be asking again in the coming years."

-- Alec MacGillis

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE . . .

3 VP Possibilities Join McCain for Barbecue

As John McCain and his top aides privately ponder whom the Republican presidential candidate should pick as a running mate, the senator from Arizona is offering the public a glimpse of at least a few of the possibilities.

During an unseasonably mild Arizona weekend, McCain had a barbecue for three of the possible choices at his Sedona vacation home, but he said nothing to reporters staked out along the dirt road leading into the valley where the house is located.

The three were former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Several of McCain's top aides also attended what the campaign dubbed merely a weekend "social" event with no vice presidential significance.

But McCain did not seem to be hiding from the media.

Television reports showed a caravan of vans and SUVs leaving the ranch to go to a restaurant called the Asylum overlooking the mountains of Sedona. But none of the participants made any comments to the reporters who followed.

Washington lawyer A.B. Culvahouse has begun vetting potential candidates for McCain, running down what the campaign says is a very long list of possible choices.

McCain has consistently said he is looking for a running mate who shares his beliefs and would be prepared to take over the presidency if needed. And his team is also taking political calculations into consideration, including candidates' geographical location, their relative youth compared with McCain and their knowledge of domestic issues.

McCain's aides are also looking at women and younger candidates, though the operative added that issues of gender and youth "would be secondary in McCain's mind."

-- Juliet Eilperin and Michael D. Shear

LIBERTARIAN, THAT IS

The Nomination Goes to Bob Barr

DENVER -- The Libertarian Party picked former Republican congressman Bob Barr as its presidential candidate on Sunday after six rounds of balloting.

Barr defeated research scientist Mary Ruwart, who was the party's presidential nominee in 1983 and vice presidential candidate in 1992, by a vote of 324 to 276 on the final ballot. He endorsed Wayne Allyn Root, who was eliminated in the fifth round, to be his running mate.

Barr left the Republican Party in 2006 over what he called bloated spending and civil liberties intrusions by the Bush administration.

Among the candidates Barr defeated were former senator Mike Gravel, who recently dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. Gravel said afterward that the defeat ended his political career.

-- Associated Press

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