In John McCain’s speech the other night, he tried to pull what he thought was a Barack Obama.

You well know I’ve been called a maverick, someone who…

… someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. Sometimes it’s meant as a compliment; sometimes it’s not. What it really means is I understand who I work for. I don’t work for a party. I don’t work for a special interest. I don’t work for myself. I work for you.

Let’s first agree that, aside from the lies peppered throughout the statement, it’s a good one.  McCain is saying that he’s embracing a servant leadership model when it comes to leading Americans.  Parties, special interests, and anything else that gets in the way of people — phooey on them.  I work for you, and as a result, you’ll be the direct beneficiary when I get things done in office.  McCain sees Obama’s message of bottom-up change working and so he wants to own a piece of it as well.

But once again, John McCain just doesn’t get it.  The McCain leadership model, outlined in the paragraph above, misses what is so inspirational about Barack Obama’s candidacy.  It’s not that Obama has pledged to fight for us.  It’s not just that he dedicates his life to opposing special interests and fighting for a post-partisan politics.  The crux and appeal of Obama’s campaign is his insistence that we can do things on our own, and that he challenges us to do it.  Look at his acceptance speech and note the difference:

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the naysayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s about you. It’s about you.

For 18 long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us — that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it — because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

And there you have it:  “I work for you” versus “It’s all about you.”  John McCain’s statement is self-less.  But Barack Obama’s is self-less and empowering.  John McCain wants to strengthen the country through his own leadership that is in tune with the concerns of every American.  Barack Obama wants to strengthen the country by challenging the country to tackle problems on their own, to make change on their own.

You’ll be able to see these approaches when both candidates meet for the “A Nation of Service” event to be held on September 11th in New York City.  Both candidates will appear separately and discuss national service and volunteerism and their plans for both should they be elected.  Obama has a myriad of plans on this topic.  McCain has, as far as I can tell, not released any national service plan.

In what has become one of the most recognized and admired passages in American history, John F. Kennedy didn’t tell people he worked for them. He didn’t discuss his penchant for fighting special interests or even his own political party.  He spoke directly to voters:  “Ask not what your country can do for you.  Ask what you can do for your country.”  McCain would do well to note that the two big words in that statement are “you” and “do.”

In a country that has the largest and most service-oriented generation becoming politically active, and in a nation that seemingly has problems escalating every day, Barack Obama is demonstrating that he understands what’s at stake. Obama understands that in order to build for the future, you don’t pursue gimmicks, political Band-Aids that get you by the next problem.  We have too many problems for this.  Instead, you train and inspire a whole generation of Americans to sacrifice, to fight on their own against the problems they face.  You invest in them and provide them with a plan to get there — one that acknowledges that one can serve his or her country without having to join the military.  John McCain has not put forth an official plan on national service.  Instead he wants us to trust him, because he works for us.  If he works for us, and if we don’t like our current administration (Bush’s approval rating hovers around 30%), why did he vote for President Bush’s policies 90% of the time?  And then why should we trust him to work for us?

As Barack Obama says, “I’m asking you to believe.  Not just about my ability to bring about real change in Washington… I’m asking you to believe in yours.”

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