Warning: I am riled. The following will not be pretty. But I needed to say something.
Disclaimer: A more coherent viewpoint will be offered in the future.
Now, on to the segment “in which Hannah declares her disconcertion and general distrust of the government as a whole”. Please note that unless otherwise stated, the quotations on this page are from TIME Magazine’s “A Time to Serve – The Case for National Service“.
As the Constitutional Convention of 1787 came to a close, after three and a half months of deliberation, a lady asked Dr. Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic,” replied the Doctor, “if you can keep it.”
— ANECDOTE FROM THE RECORDS OF THE FEDERAL CONVENTION OF 1787, ED., MAX FARRAND, VOL. 3, APPENDIX A, 1911
A republic, if you can keep it. The founders were not at all optimistic about the future of the Republic. There had been only a handful of other republics in all of human history, and most were small and far away. The founders’ pessimism, though, came not from history but from their knowledge of human nature. A republic, to survive, needed not only the consent of the governed but also their active participation. It was not a machine that would go of itself; free societies do not stay free without the involvement of their citizens.
“Freedom isn’t free.” Gotcha. Personal responsibility.
Today the two central acts of democratic citizenship are voting and paying taxes. That’s basically it. The last time we demanded anything else from people was when the draft ended in 1973. And yes, there are libertarians who believe that government asks too much of us — and that the principal right in a democracy is the right to be left alone — but most everyone else bemoans the fact that only about half of us vote and don’t do much more than send in our returns on April 15. The truth is, even the archetype of the model citizen is mostly a myth. Except for times of war and the colonial days, we haven’t been all that energetic about keeping the Republic.
That’s right, we’re not taking that personal responsibility very seriously at this moment in time, as a culture, now are we?
We are at a historic junction; with the first open presidential election in more than a half-century, it is time for the next President to mine the desire that is out there for serving and create a program for universal national service that will be his — or her — legacy for decades to come. It is the simple but compelling idea that devoting a year or more to national service, whether military or civilian, should become a countrywide rite of passage, the common expectation and widespread experience of virtually every young American.
So, yes, let’s use our government clout to require “a countrywide rite of passage” to make them get involved! In order to ensure the future of our free society, let’s… force everyone to get involved and care.
Am I the only one not seeing the logic in this? Am I the only one who is extremely disconcerted here? I read an excerpt from McCain and Obama Share Stage Briefly at Service Forum that was cross-posted at the Free New York Blog, and it only drove the point home. In fact, it was what intrigued me in the first place:
“Would you perhaps ask Sen. Obama to be a member of your Cabinet for national service?” moderator Rick Stengel asked.
“Yes,” McCain said with a laugh. “You know, every time we see a problem, we sort of — let’s create another Cabinet post. Now, we have got so many members of the Cabinet, that the Cabinet never meets, as you well know. So, I’d rather see a powerful, influential, outstanding person sitting in that office who I could literally deal with every day.”
Obama –- when asked if he would accept McCain’s offer –- said not just yet.
“We’ve got a little work to do before we get to that point,” Obama said, laughing.
When asked, if he won the presidency, if he would ask McCain to be a member of his Cabinet for national service, Obama said yes, and joked again, “I mean, if this is the deal he wants to make right now.”
As far as what Free New York Blog said about that?
If you are a real conservative or a libertarian and you’ve been fiddling with the idea of voting for McCain, how could you live with yourself after pulling that lever? A vote for McCain is a vote for Obama and a vote for Obama is a vote for McCain. You’re screwed either way!
And I like the comment that Michael Rebmann made in response to that blog entry: “I tuned in late and thought I was watching a History Channel piece about the Hitler Youth Program.”
Perhaps I’m just one of those “right-wing conspiracy theorists” who doesn’t trust the government enough. So be it. Can anyone explain to me why we should let the federal government swoop down into our states and make us work for them? Oh, what’s that quote… gah. I can’t believe I don’t remember it. It was something along the lines of any government large enough to take care of its people is also large enough to control its people? Of course, I’ve also got random V for Vendetta quotes flying around inside my head right now, but if I start spouting those off, who knows what will happen?
At various times in American history, public service and private effort went arm in arm. After Pearl Harbor, Rosie the Riveter and Uncle Sam exhorted people to help the war effort, and Americans responded.
My friends, there is a big difference between “exhorting” and forcing! Yes, Americans responded – and you know what? They can do it again! Our entire cultural outlook is nothing but consume and waste, and that needs to change. But it needs to change within the people. It needs to change within the hearts. It does not need to change by the government handing every child a shovel before they let him enter the workforce. And what would this mean for homeschoolers, out of curiosity? A “rite of passage”? Who decides what this rite of passage is, exactly, and when it happens? Can you opt out? And if so, what would be the government-imposed repercussions of not participating? Now, folks, don’t try to give me some line about how the government wouldn’t do that. If they required this “rite of passage”, there would have to be some sort of repercussion that would allow them to enforce it. The whole “for every action, an equal and opposite reaction” bit? Yeah, that.
So what would a plan for universal national service look like? It would be voluntary, not mandatory. Americans don’t like to be told what they have to do; many have argued that requiring service drains the gift of its virtue. It would be based on carrots, not sticks — “doing well by doing good,” as Benjamin Franklin, the true father of civic engagement, put it.
I’m not convinced.
Every time an American baby is born, the Federal Government would invest $5,000 in that child’s name in a 529-type fund — the kind many Americans are already using for college savings. At a rate of return of 7% — the historic return for equities — that money would total roughly $19,000 by the time that baby reaches age 20. That money could be accessed between the ages of 18 and 25 on one condition: that he or she commits to at least one year of national or military service.
Out of curiosity, where is the federal government getting this $5,000? From its already rising deficit spending? Oh, that’s right. We’ve got this handy thing called the American people that we can just tax more in order to get what we need.
Says City Year CEO and co-founder Michael Brown: “It’s a new kind of government philosophy about reciprocity. If you invest in your country, your country will invest in you.”
It wouldn’t be our country investing in us… it would be like social security in a different format! We take it from you now, and you can have it back then. Assuming that, you know… we haven’t blown it on spending in a different area, and, ah… our money is still good for anything. Oh, and what’s this? An “education corps”?
The idea here is to create a cadre of tutors, teachers and volunteers who can help the 38% of fourth-graders who can’t read at a basic level. The members of the Education Corps would also lead after-school programs for the 14 million students — a quarter of all school-age kids — who do not have a supervised activity between 3 and 6 p.m. on schooldays. Studies show that students who spend no time in after-school programs are almost 50% more likely to have used drugs and 37% more likely to become teen parents than students who spend one to four hours a week in an extracurricular activity. The Corps members would also focus on curbing America’s dropout epidemic.
Call me a head-shy horse, I don’t care – be ready for the absolute change in metaphor, folks – but you get your sticky fingers any deeper into education than they already are, friend, and… I’ll warrant that they need to be slapped with a ruler for their candy-hungry ways. (Okay, enough with the “thieving child caught stealing candy” metaphor.) The above paragraph honestly sends shivers down my spine. An education corps?!?!
Senators Christopher Dodd (Democrat, Conn.) and Thad Cochran (Republican, Miss.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (Democrat, Conn.) have sponsored a bill that would support a service “rite of passage” for students before they begin high school.
Again, I wonder: what about the homeschoolers? What about children attending private school? You know, the people whose children aren’t already fed to the system?
The new Rapid-Response Reserve Corps would consist of retired military and National Guard personnel as well as national- and community-service program alumni to focus on disaster preparedness and immediate response to local and national disasters. The program would initially train 50,000 members, who could be deployed for two-week periods in response to emergencies and serve under the guidance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
I swear this whole thing would make a really good script for a doomsday movie. Oh, man…
Picture West Point, but instead of learning how to fire an M-4 and reading The Art of War, students would be studying the Federalist papers and learning how to transform a failing public school. Conceived by two former Teach for America corps members, Chris Myers Asch and Shawn Raymond, the U.S. Public Service Academy would give undergraduates a four-year education in exchange for a five-year commitment to public service after they graduate. The idea is to provide a focused education for people who will serve in the public sector — either the federal, state or local government — and thereby create a new generation of civic leaders. Asch and Raymond were so dismayed by the government’s response to Katrina that they wanted to create a new generation of people who were idealistic about government. “We need an institution that systematically develops leadership,” says Asch. “We need to elevate it in the eyes of young people so we can attract the best and the brightest.” The idea has been endorsed by Hillary Clinton and Pennsylvanian Republican Senator Arlen Specter, who are co-sponsors of legislation that would allocate $164 million per year for the envisioned 5,000-student academy.
“They wanted to create a new generation of people who were idealistic about government.” Excuse me? Idealistic, rather than practical, sure. Let the government fix all of our problems. *sigh*
Between 1944 and 1956, 8 million returning veterans received debt-free education, low-interest mortgages or small-business loans. The GI Bill helped assimilate those young men into a new postwar society and helped turn America into a middle-class nation. A new GI Bill for national service involving men and women, young and old, could help secure America for the future and turn every new generation into a Greatest Generation. The courageous souls who signed the Declaration of Independence pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” The least we can do to keep the Republic is to pledge a little time.
What did they sign? Oh, that’s right. The Declaration… of Independence.