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Obama, senior Bush celebrate community service at Texas event

Promoting volunteerism has been one of the most bipartisan causes of US presidents since Bush’s inaugural speech in 1989. The Obama administration has requested for 2010 a budget of $1.1 billion for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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U.S. President Barack Obama waves beside former President George H.W. Bush after speaking at the Points of Light forum at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas Friday.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

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In the end, Barack Obama and George H.W. Bush – the 44th president and the 41st, Democrat and Republican – got their kumbaya moment.

Mr. Obama addressed a forum on community service Friday afternoon at the first President Bush’s library, on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. The event had turned into a magnet for protesters opposed to Obama’s policies, leading Mr. Bush to issue an open letter two days ago expressing hope that Obama would experience the “welcoming Aggie spirit.”

On the short motorcade ride to campus from the airport, Obama was greeted by thousands of students lining the route. It’s not clear if he saw protesters when he entered the campus. But inside the auditorium, he was warmly received by the 2,000 assembled service leaders.

“When it comes to the challenges we face, the need for action always exceeds the limits of government,” Obama said, speaking on his first visit to Texas since his election.

“While there’s plenty that government can do and must do to keep our families safe and our planet clean and our markets free and fair, there’s a lot that government can’t and shouldn’t do. And that’s where active, engaged citizens come in. That’s the purpose of service in this nation,” he said.

Promoting volunteerism has been one of the most bipartisan, or nonpartisan, causes of American presidents since Bush’s inaugural speech in 1989. In his most remembered line that day, the 41st president spoke of “a thousand points of light,” as he sought to encourage individuals to address community problems through voluntary service. That led to a federal commission aimed at promoting volunteerism, as well as efforts by each subsequent president to expand community service.

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