In dueling holiday addresses, President Barack Obama appealed for public support of his domestic programs and Sen. John McCain said Americans should side with Iranian election protesters.
The 2008 rivals for the White House both cited the spirit of the nation's founders in their Fourth of July radio and Internet broadcasts on Saturday.
Obama said an "unyielding spirit is what defines us as Americans" and led people during the nation's history to explore the West, persevere during the Depression and build a robust industrial economy.
"That is the spirit we are called to show once more," Obama said. "We are facing an array of challenges on a scale unseen in our time. We are waging two wars. We are battling a deep recession. And our economy — and our nation itself — are endangered by festering problems we have kicked down the road for far too long: spiraling health care costs; inadequate schools; and a dependence on foreign oil."
He said the same spirit will be needed to deal with problems "we cannot defer any longer," citing several areas:
- Revamping the education system, demand more from teachers, parents and students and "build schools that prepare every child in America to outcompete any worker in the world."
- Overhauling the health care system "that is imposing crushing costs on families, businesses, large and small, and state and federal budgets."
- Making clean energy "the profitable kind of energy so that we can end our dependence on foreign oil and reclaim America's future."
The House narrowly passed Obama's energy bill, and Congress is developing legislation to overhaul the health care system, making care more affordable and providing coverage for millions of the uninsured.
McCain, R-Ariz., said the U.S. has a moral obligation to publicly denounce the Iranian government and support Iranians who feel cheated by the election.
"Today, we stand with the millions of Iranians who brave batons, imprisonment and gunfire to have their voices heard and their votes counted," McCain said. "They do not ask us to arm them or come to their assistance with anything other than public declarations of solidarity, and public denunciations of the tyrants who oppress them. We have a moral obligation to do so."
Iran's leadership has tried to erase doubts about the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by portraying the unrest as sparked by foreign meddling. Protesters say the June 12 election was fraudulent.
Obama has tried to balance being supportive of the protesters without giving the Tehran government more cause to crack down.
Republican lawmakers have pushed the president to more forcefully denounce Iran's leadership, and McCain kept at it.
On the domestic front, Obama said some critics of his programs "would have us try what has already failed.'
But he said they need to remember history.
"They forget that we, as a people, did not get here by standing pat in a time of change," he said. "We did not get here by doing what was easy. That is not how a cluster of 13 colonies became the United States of America."
"We are not a people who fear the future. We are a people who make it," Obama said. "And on this July Fourth, we need to summon that spirit once more."
Observing the day
On a more personal note, the president planned to lead the nation in observing Independence Day with fireworks and a picnic
Saturday is also his daughter Malia's 11th birthday. Twenty of her young friends have joined the first family at the Camp David presidential retreat in the mountains of Maryland to help celebrate.
By evening, the Obama family will be back at the White House, where the president hosts a barbecue on the South Lawn for 1,200 military families, saluting their service to the nation. It'll all be capped with Washington's traditional Fourth of July fireworks extravaganza.
The president sets off Sunday on a weeklong trip to Russia, Italy and Ghana, his first trip to sub-Saharan Africa as president.