Touting resilience in hurting upstate New York, President Barack Obama said Monday that better economic days are coming thanks to innovation and some help from the government.
"As we emerge from this current economic crisis, our great challenge will be to ensure that we do not just drift into the future," Obama said at Hudson Valley Community College. "Instead, we must choose to do what past generations have done: shape a brighter future through hard work and innovation."
Obama delivered an economic pep talk and a plug for his economic recovery plan: a sustained investment in education, technology, health care and research. He told his audience that for years, Washington has not lived it up to its responsibilities to help.
"If government does its modest part, there is no stopping the most powerful and generative economic force the world has ever known: the American people," Obama said.
His pitch came in a region where the economic mood has long been gloomy. Nationwide, unemployment is at 9.7 percent, the highest level since 1983.
Obama vowed that by 2020, America will again have the world's highest proportion of college graduates. He said recent increases in Pell Grants and a simplification of financial aid processes will help the nation reach that goal.
The president also praised a plan to keep wireless carriers from blocking certain types of Internet traffic flowing over their networks. Obama said he was pleased that the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is announcing principles "to preserve an open Internet in which all Americans can participate and benefit."
Obama offered kind words to New York's embattled governor, David Paterson, despite reports that the White House wants Paterson to drop out of next year's gubernatorial race.
Obama told the college audience, "A wonderful man, the governor of the great state of New York, David Paterson, is in the house." Earlier, Paterson had greeted the president when he landed in upstate New York.
Some Democrats fear Paterson's low approval ratings will cost their party a chance to hold the governor's seat and hurt other Democrats on next year's ballot. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs wouldn't say whether the president had ordered that word be sent to Paterson urging him not to run in 2010.
On the campus, Obama toured a classroom lab where students were working with transformers and studying power distribution.
"This looks complicated," the president said. He chatted with students as he examined the circuitry and computers and asked instructors about the real-world applications of the students' work. He was accompanied by Jill Biden, a college instructor and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden.
Obama made appearances on five Sunday morning talk shows at the top of a week that will take him to New York for the U.N. General Assembly and to Pittsburgh for a gathering of the world's 20 largest economies. Both will be the focus of international attention but also come as the administration is trying to spark a domestic agenda that has stalled in the Democratic-controlled Congress.
To that end, his speech at Hudson Valley Community College was repackaging his programs as part of a strategy for innovation. He said new ideas produce new jobs and the United States must invest in education, infrastructure and research.
Hudson Valley Community College already has received some $2 million in federal grants to promote environmentally friendly jobs and train students in energy efficiency programs.
Obama is scheduled Monday to become the first sitting U.S. president to appear on David Letterman's "Late Show" couch — another example of a White House strategy designed to put Obama in front of as many cameras as possible to sell his message to a skeptical public.
"He's been on everything but the Food Channel," joked Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.