Since I don't see much about the Obama campaign that is substantive, it's worth noting it when I see it.
Obama already has the template for running a campaign on patriotism...
Last December, Obama gave one of his best, and least noticed, speeches -- a call to national service. The policies he proposed are important, including a doubling of the Peace Corps and an expansion of the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 to 250,000 slots. (And by the way, President Bush deserves credit for saving AmeriCorps from the hostility of some in his own party.) Obama would link his $4,000 tuition tax credit to a service requirement.
On balance, I'm mostly for these kind of volunteer organizations. But having seen both my sisters serve in the Peace Corps, I definitely see problems with it. PCVs are subject to all sorts of niggling rules. The rules are necessary because PCVs' connection to the government makes them politically sensitive. Another absurdity is that PCV orientation is insistent that celibacy during volunteer service is not an option, to encourage safe sex. This probably doesn't do great harm-- PCVs are adults, and those of them whose moral principles don't allow such behavior are probably mature enough to ignore the pro-promiscuity propaganda-- but it's an example of the silly distortions, moral as well as economic, that are associated with any big government program.
Indeed, the reason Peace Corps is a good idea is less because of the moral virtue of government-sponsored volunteerism than because of the vast global demand for English. If it weren't for the widespread desire to learn English, there wouldn't be much of use that young, educated but otherwise unqualified Americans could do in developing countries. But given the emergence of English as an international lingua franca, and given the restrictions on labor mobility that make it hard for the private market to meet this demand, Peace Corps has a useful function, and expanding it might be a good idea.
I know less about Americorps. The general problem with the government volunteering idea, though, is that the government is just not likely to be very good at coming up with anything useful for kids to do.
He also suggests ideas that conservatives should embrace, including a Social Investment Fund Network and a Social Entrepreneur Agency that would encourage the innovations of the private, not-for-profit sector.
But Obama's speech was about more than programs. It was suffused with the rhetoric of a reformer's patriotism. "I have no doubt that, in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it," he said. "Loving your country shouldn't just mean watching fireworks on the 4th of July; loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it."
What makes him think we aren't accepting that responsibility already?