I Get e:Mail - From The White House

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
This arrived in this morning's e:mail:

Janiece --

President Obama has been calling on Americans to work together -- street by street, town by town -- to tackle our country's biggest challenges.

Yesterday, that service got a lot easier when President Obama signed the Serve America Act, the largest expansion of national service since the creation of the Peace Corps. Yesterday's signing opens up new service opportunities for millions of people across the country.

Join your fellow Americans in putting our country back on track.

Visit the White House website to find a service opportunity in your community, and tell us how you're delivering on President Obama's call to service.

Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama, former President Bill Clinton, former First Lady Rosalyn Carter and Senator Ted Kennedy all joined the President at yesterday's signing ceremony.

They all wanted to be among the first to answer the President's call to serve.

Now it's your turn. The Serve America Act triples the size of AmeriCorps over the next eight years, and focuses on our country's toughest challenges -- including clean energy, health care, and education.

It gives students, seniors, and everyone in between the resources to serve. And it strengthens nonprofit organizations to expand opportunities for everyone to pitch in.

You've already taken the first step by signing up at USAservice.org. We're so grateful for the work you've done since the National Day of Service in January.

Take the next step. Join President Obama's official White House initiative to renew America:

http://www.usaservice.org/whitehouse

We hope you'll use this historic legislation to enrich both your own life and the lives of others across this country.

Thanks,

USA Service

Now, I approve of the Service America Act in principal, since it's designed to help people get to work and improve the state of our nation. I've been a volunteer most of my life, and I strongly believe people need to donate some time, energy or money to make the world a better place.

But I also recognize that not everyone feels that way, and your can't legislate values. Regardless of this Act and the President's call to service, I will continue to be a volunteer and value service. I want my mid-life career change to reflect a desire to serve. My Hot Mom is such a busy volunteer she needs a vacation from her volunteer work. My Smart BIL serves on the Housing Commission for his town, and is local "go-to guy" for every senior in the County who needs a bit of work done (along with a chat). My cousins volunteer at their churches, HOA's and other community organizations. This particular value runs in our family, and we would no more abandon it than we would abandon our religious beliefs just because the government passed some law.

So why does the government believe this will effect change among those people who don't value service? I'm not pointing and laughing, here - I really want to know. What change does the President and the Bill's sponsors hope to effect as the result of signing this Bill into law?

I don't get it.

11 comments:

Nathan said...

I'm not sure how it's being implemented in other places, but in NYC, Mayor Bloomberg is going to require community service opportunities in the Public Schools. According to the story (links busted unfortunately), some other places are making community service a requirement for graduation. I like that better.

Truth be told, I wouldn't have any objection to making 2 years of National Service a requirement for all citizens. There could be a large list of options available, (military, teaching ESL or adult literacy, lots of options), and the two years could be served any time before your 28th birthday.

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, volunteer service has been a requirement for HS graduation here in Colorado for some time, so I'm not sure what changes this will bring to our state.

I've long believed in mandatory National Service - I'd be totally on board with that.

Eric said...

Required volunteer service raises Constitutional concerns (Amend. XIII issues, to be precise), which is why it's not a popular nor good option. I believe there may have been litigation on mandatory public service in schools, but I don't recall how it turned out if there was; if it is permissable in schools, it's only because of the special position of schools and the way the courts have stripped students of their rights over the past twenty years (perhaps literally, depending on how the strip-search case argued before the SCOTUS this week turns out). In any case, mandatory national service will not happen because there's just no way to do it legally.

And I think that also answers your question, Janiece: there's no way to force anybody to value service and you can't force anybody to serve*, but government can certainly offer encouragement and remove bars to participation. The last may be especially crucial, since for many it's likely less a matter of value/not value than it is a matter of not knowing what can be done or how to do it. Making it easier to serve is itself a damn good thing.

____

*Okay, you have tricky legal issues when you start talking about Selective Service, but that's all kinds of mess, which is probably the second reason nobody wants to ever have to reinstate the draft. (The first being what the draft ends up doing to the armed forces themselves.) The draft, obviously, has been legally upheld, but I doubt anyone wants to drag the issue through the courts again.

Janiece Murphy said...

Eric, I knew that instituting National Service requirements would be problematic (at best) from a legal perspective, which is why I'm not holding my breath.

But I'm one of the those nutjobs who believe the franchise should be earned. While I recognize that such a plan would require a Constitutional Convention and is doomed to fail, I still believe in it.

You make a good point about the availability of opportunities to serve, though. One of the great things about the Internet is that it allows people to find such opportunities more easily.

John the Scientist said...

"But I'm one of the those nutjobs who believe the franchise should be earned."

Oh yeah. One of the few major mistakes the Founders made was realizing this, and then tying it to property. They should have come up with a better means to determine who really wants to have a stake in the future.

Eric said...

Like testicles! Testicles are a great way to determine who ought to be able to vote!

C'mon. I'm aware that letting everybody vote results in things like George W. Bush being elected twice, but once you start trying to thread through who ought to be able to vote, you find yourself making anti-(small "d")democratic decisions that are likely to be as arbitrary in their way as skin color or whether genitalia is external or internal. Even if you find a way to tie it to some form of service you're going to be excluding people who should vote but couldn't serve because of physical or psychological hardships while including people who arguably shouldn't vote (e.g. every perky moron you knew in high school who was dumber than a sack of rocks but who nonetheless managed to be actively involved in every single club, committee, council or activity you could think of except possibly Chess Club).

The system we have sucks, but (to paraphrase Churchill) it doesn't suck as hard as all the sucktastic alternatives.

Janiece Murphy said...

Eric, I do understand what you're saying (testicular removal jokes aside).

But from my point of view, no one should be excluded from "service" in this context. If the only thing you're capable of doing is making little ones out of big ones, or doing data entry at 5 characters a minute, then you should be allowed to do those things in service to the nation in order to "earn" your franchise. The key factor is determining who "ought" to vote (to use your phrase) isn't native intelligence, or physical ability, but the willingness to serve others.In other words, if you stand up and serve - in any capacity, under the aegis of the system - you'll get the franchise. Period. How is that (small D) undemocratic?

Anne C. said...

I agree with Eric, though the sentiment you (Janiece) speak of is a good one.
The truth is, to be able to give, one must have a surplus of something, whether it be time or money. In the Bible (no, not getting thumpy on you), I believe there's a story about a rich man giving a big amount, but a small proportion of what he had, and a poor woman giving all that she had. Jesus, of course, praised the poor woman giving everything. In the real world, though, how is the single mom with three kids and two jobs supposed to make it to the soup kitchen for her minimum required amount of time? And if we reduce the required amount of time to the level doable for someone in that situation, is it meaningful any more for those who have oodles of time, but no inclination to help further? Also, what about people whose service is primarily religion based? Would working at a
Christian soup kitchen count or would only non-religious service count?
As I said, it's an admirable desire, but in the very act of defining service, I think you destroy the spirit of it.

Eric said...

Part of the problem, Janiece, is that service doesn't really say anything about "willingness" nor about character. You can find any number of people who are willing to serve others for bad reasons, including a number of corrupt politicians and criminals. While there's a noble ideal in there, you're using service as a signifier when it doesn't necessarily signify anything, as I think Anne is suggesting. You'd have to set some sort of requirements, however arbitrary, and once you did you'd create a false distinction between somebody who has a legitimate stake in the system but will be disenfranchised (e.g. the time-cramped single mother in Anne's example) and somebody without a legitimate stake who exploits or abuses the franchise (e.g. the moronic narcissistic brownnoser I alluded to in my earlier comment).

In short, one's "willingness to serve" may not be married to competence or even to good ethics. There are idiots who are willing to serve, and crooks.

Like I said: an open franchise guarantees that idiots will vote, and may guarantee they vote in vast numbers. It's not that a relatively open franchise is good. But the alternatives suck harder.

Janiece Murphy said...

Eric and Anne, part of the problem I have is the frustration of the contributing citizen towards those who could serve and don't.So while I understand and appreciate what you're saying, I'm not willing to give so many people a "free pass" in terms of the franchise.

Perhaps part of the problem is that I'm considering a much broader definition of "service" than I think you guys are.

Take the single mother in Anne's example. If she baby-sits her neighbor's kids one day a week so that her neighbor can work, or go to school, isn't that "service?"* She's contributing to an outcome that is beneficial to society (a more educated neighbor, or a neighbor who continues to work instead of being on the dole).

I don't think "service" is limited to the military, or even Americorps-like programs. There's plenty of ways to improve and contribute to a society that might be considered "non-traditional" but still matter.

*Yes, yes, I realize such a system would be open to manipulation and "cheating." Since the discussion is moot anyway, I'm not going to spend any time thinking of ways to ensure compliance. There's no way such a proposal would ever be accepted in our society, whether it was enforceable or not.

Anne C. said...

I totally agree with you, Janiece, that service is bigger than just soup kitchens and serving in the armed forces. That's kinda why I think the government should pretty much stay out of it.

If the bill that prompted this posts encourages the *culture* of service then I'm all for it. Otherwise, it's just (no slight intended here) giving more money to social services.