America Serves — but who and how?

The America Serves section of President-elect Obama’s new transition web site, Change.gov, suggests a large expansion in national service. Conservative and civil-liberties bloggers think he’s calling for a non-military draft for young adults: They envision the Obama Youth marching off to do The One’s bidding.

“America Serves” starts with an Obama quote defining the American Dream as serving your nation, community or neighborhood.

“When you choose to serve — whether it’s your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood — you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That’s why it’s called the American dream.”

We are all community organizers now.

The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps.

That’s a lot of corpses — why not just expand AmeriCorps? — but it seems to be voluntary. However, students may not have a choice.

Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

He’s going to require children and young adults to accept the call? I think someone did too much summarizing when taking proposals from the Obama/Biden campaign site.  That called for public service to be both “universal” and “voluntary” — quite the oxymoron — with a $4,000 tax credit for 100 or more hours per year. The government would “encourage” schools to develop “service learning” programs in middle and high school. Presumably, the feds would pay the cost: Someone’s got to keep track of the hours, nag the non-completers and develop and teach a curriculum to turn  involuntary service into “learning.”  (In my years of real volunteering, I’ve seen a lot of kids show up to fill school requirements. It’s easy to tell them from voluntary volunteers.)

Radley Balko wonders what kind of service would prove credit-worthy.

Something tells me that you’d be more likely to get one of Obama’s vouchers by going door to door for one of ACORN’s living wage campaigns than, say, volunteering for a libertarian nonprofit organization that advocates against things like government-mandated community service.

Eugene Volokh raises another point:  If national servants are assigned real jobs, what about the people doing that work now?

If, for instance, college students help out in schools, I take it there’d be fewer jobs for teacher’s aides. Moreover, the loss of such possible union jobs will be roughly proportional to the public value that the community servants will provide: If the college students require more supervision than they provide value, that might mean more union jobs, but it will also mean that they won’t do much good to the institution they’re supposedly serving.

Untrained youths usually don’t provide much value; training short-timers costs a lot of money. Unions will demand that “volunteers” don’t infringe on unionized workers’ jobs. That suggests the national servants will be assigned marginal and menial tasks.

Update: The “America Serves” section of the Change.gov site has been changed: “Required” is out. Service for students is now a “goal.”

BizzyBlog points out that a $4,000 credit for 100 hours of service is $40 an hour. That certainly would motivate Americans to enroll in a low-cost community college for at least a semester. Even full-time workers could enroll: Surely, it would be unfair to discriminate against people who can’t afford to attend classes full-time or don’t pass all their classes or already have a degree.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. I’ll be curious to see how the people who complained so much about NCLB like this bureaucratic monstrosity.

  2. Many high schools have been playing around with this idea of required “voluntary” service since I was stuck in the public system. It keeps coming up again like an overflowing toilet. If school districts will hand a kid a diploma even when they can’t pass English, do you really think that they care if they fulfill these new requirements?

    That one high school you (Joanne) highlighted required each student get a job. Now THAT’S more like it. Require a year working in customer service!

  3. T_Pastrick says:

    You note in response to Obama’s “America Serves” proposal, “We are all community organizers now” with an arch tone, a la Sarah the Banished. That’s beneath you, I believe. You demonstrate a wonderful intelligence in your writing that was absent from any of Sarah Palin’s public utterances.

    You note in response to Obama’s “Classroom Corps” proposal, “However, students may not have a choice.” Yes, if they choose to participate in “Classroom Corps” they won’t have a choice. They’ll have made their choice already.

    What is “oxymoronic” about about combining something universal and voluntary? Ever heard of marriage?

    You object to decentralized “community organizing”, though your website is devoted to alternatives to centralized “Soviet planning” approaches.

    You devote your energy to creating alternatives to the status quo in education, though you question Obama’s offer of alternatives.

    What’s your damage?

  4. It’s deeply ironic in a disturbing way for the first black President to so blatantly ignore the 13th Amendment.

  5. It may be useful over the next years to find some software for doing screen captures , as Change.gov has already CHANGEd!

        from:

    Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.

        to:
    Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.

  6. Stacy in NJ says:

    It’s just not the governments job to mandate or “encourage” volunteerism. Overstepping.

  7. Richard Nieporent says:

    Let’s see. War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength; Mandatory is Voluntary. Yes, it fits right in.

  8. Arbeit macht frei….

  9. tim-10-ber says:

    My son’s private school requires a minimum of 20 hours of community service in order to graduate. This is real and they track it. The class of 2008 with 62 students did roughly 3300 hours!! 3300 hours from 62 kids equals 53 hours a student, almost triple the requirement. Not bad. I am not opposed to community service. I do believe 100 hours a years is too much to ask college students to do this on top of everything else they do. However, some colleges are starting to require community service in order to graduate. If someone organizes the programs, it can be done. I would say 25 hours per annum for college is doable.

  10. superdestroyer says:

    There is actually a Supreme Court case where a city in Florida tried to require all of its male residents to provide a set number of work hours as party of the cost of living the the city. The Supreme Court stuck down the requirement.

    The only way to force college students to do work is to tie it to financial aid. That really means that it will be a tax on poor people.

  11. Well, if it means that nearly-40-year-old, employed-full-time-and-then-some me DOESN’T get called nearly every week by some group or other and asked to give up my Saturday (which isn’t even usually a totally free day for me) for volunteer work (for which there is rarely even a “thanks”), perhaps I might be willing to accept it.

    When my taxes go up, can I tell the volunteer organizers “No,” and explain that I’m not going to do it because there are people that I am (indirectly) paying to do the work for me?

    All this is gonna do is breed a generation that won’t do volunteer work without being forced or bribed.

  12. Ponderosa says:

    I think the idea has potential. Why is it OK to coerce citizens to fight in a war (i.e. help the country out) but not to do domestic service (i.e. help the country out)? Getting American youth in the HABIT of community service would be salutary for America’s soul. I’m OK with government taking some of the control of soul formation away from sociopathic corporations (which currently shape our souls in so many self-serving ways that youth cannot escape). It may be wise for Obama to take on habit-formation –reminds me of Aristotle’s insistence in Nicomachean Ethics that virtue is a kind of habit.

    Of course, for some people, deeply prejudiced about government (which is really just an extension of our collective soul), almost anything the government does is invidious. Why not leave control of most human affairs in the hands of virtuous Big Business? (since greed breeds virtue, right?).
    Sorry, but the free market left unfettered does not usher in the best of all possible worlds as many seem to still dogmatically believe (the recent financial collapse was of course due to too much government, not too little. Right.) There are many areas in which the market fails. I volunteer TONS of time each year to organize a bi-monthly barn dance in the Bay Area that serves an important community-building role. This would not fly as a commercial enterprise, yet it has real societal value. But I feel like I’m barely hanging-on in keeping this thing going. Few have the time or energy to help me out because our uber-capitalist society increasingly means more work for less pay.

    Sure, volunteering is more pure if the person does it unprompted. But forget purity. I’m happy to see Obama using our flawed-but-benevolent-and- now -wiser government to do something to help knit back together our frayed social fabric. I don’t think we should leave such important matters to chance, or to the merciful hands of the free market, just for the sake of that conservative golden calf, individual liberty. Not all government coercion is Tyranny!, Foul Tyranny!

  13. Ponderosa,

    Ummmm, was your post meant as satire?

    Jane

  14. I just checked a dictionary and as of this afternoon the definition of the word “voluntary” hasn’t been changed so I can only assume that Obama had his sense of irony surgically removed as part of the process of becoming a “progressive”.

    kitty wrote:

    Arbeit macht frei….

    Godwin’s Law really is worth considering before posting something like that. The concept of mandatory “voluntarism” is repulsive enough without invoking, and diminishing, the extermination of millions of innocent people.

  15. “Why is it OK to coerce citizens to fight in a war (i.e. help the country out) but not to do domestic service (i.e. help the country out)?”

    So, you’re ok with a military draft? We haven’t had one of those in a few generations. The fact is it’s NOT ok to draft citizens… and it should only be used in the most dire situations.

    As for helping the country out, it’s still up in the air whether Obama’s proposed program would even do that. Methinks it has more to do with indoctrination of the ever-so-gullible teenage and twenty-something crowds.

  16. I’m OK with government taking some of the control of soul formation away from sociopathic corporations (which currently shape our souls in so many self-serving ways that youth cannot escape).

    Ponderosa, like most “progressives” you fail miserably in the logic department. You have bifurcated reality into government vs. free market, and neither of these may be responsible for the ills you rant about. Nor does the progressive mantra that capitalism is all about greed have anything to do with anything. Human beings are greedy, and human beings make up corporations, but like the progressive you are, you think government, which is also made up of human beings, is somehow going to be devoid of the seven deadly sins. That’s a good one.

    We are living in a flawed world, populated by flawed human beings, but due to the Marxist strain running through all progressives’ thoughts, individual humans are viewed as basically good (except for the ones progressives don’t like) and all evil stems from economics. With so much government corruption having been exposed for so many years in so many countries, I find it curious that you demonize corporations while naively believing in the purity and benevolence of government.

    At one time in our country, religion was the prime soul-forming agent, and we were a much humbler and kinder people then. But progressives like you hate religion (read Christianity) and have succeeded in sweeping it out of the public psyche so that government can force people to do what they once freely volunteered to do. Because of people like you our culture has been debased and noble values eroded. All the free market does is give people what they want. If people want gangster rap and pornography, the free market will provide it.

    The ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people. –Ashanti

  17. Maybe all the dissenters could move to Alaska and they could secede.

  18. Andy Freeman says:

    > I am not opposed to community service.

    What counts as community service?

    In some of the more enlightened parts of the US, the Boy Scouts are considered “unclean”. Will working with them be considered “community service”? How about registering Repubs? How about advocating for “shall issue” CCW or teaching gun safety (with actual guns)?

  19. Hey folks, let’s be polite. Progressives are not diabolical, and neither are conservatives.

    Look, government can be awful. On that we agree. But, in theory at least, a democratically-elected government is sociophilic, that is, it exists to promote the general welfare. By definition, private enterprise is, if not downright sociopathic, at least indifferent to society’s well-being. If good results from its operation, it’s only as an accidental byproduct.

    In his victory speech, Obama took that bully pulpit and set a sober and re-moralizing tone. True, a leader cannot single-handedly make a people better, but he can definitely help. George Bush told us to go shopping after 9-11. Was that an appeal to our better, nobler selves? Requiring citizens to spend a couple years serving their country (as they do in Israel and Switzerland, I believe) could well make us more civic-oriented, less selfish people. Make us think of ourselves as citizens and not just consumers.

    Religion can serve a similar purpose, but why should we leave such an important job to religion? (It’s true: I’m an agnostic). It seems to me that market forces, not religion or government, are the dominant force in our lives these days. A counterweight would be salutary.

    I recoil at the idea of America’s youth getting indoctrinated by MoveOn, on the one hand, or Fox on the other. The Left can be as hideous and dogmatic as the Right. But I doubt Obama wants this program to turn our youth into unthinking leftist ditto-heads.

    Note to Allen: you’re right –a mandatory service program should NOT be called “voluntary”. That’s a misuse of words.

  20. “But, in theory at least, a democratically-elected government is sociophilic, that is, it exists to promote the general welfare. By definition, private enterprise is, if not downright sociopathic, at least indifferent to society’s well-being. If good results from its operation, it’s only as an accidental byproduct”

    – Both systems harm individuals (taxes on one hand, fees on another) for the benefit of others… the difference is that in one situation an individual has choice and in the other not.

    “Religion can serve a similar purpose, but why should we leave such an important job to religion?”

    – And why should we leave it to government? I’d rather the government left it to me.

    “I recoil at the idea of America’s youth getting indoctrinated by MoveOn, on the one hand, or Fox on the other.”

    – You’ve compared a legitimate news agency to a strongly partisan lobbying organization. I’d say that you either did not think your comparison out to much or, if you did, the comparison reveals what you consider moderate.

  21. Why not leave control of most human affairs in the hands of virtuous Big Business? (since greed breeds virtue, right?).

    There are millions of people in this nation who are neither “Big Business” nor “Government”. I’m one of them. We’re citizens. Why not leave our affairs to us? That is the original premise of this country, isn’t it?

    But, in theory at least, a democratically-elected government is sociophilic, that is, it exists to promote the general welfare.

    When, in the history of modern, activist government (since, oh, 1930), has the Federal Government ever acted in a socially-healthy way? Note, I’m not talking about municipalities or states, but the Federal Government. The problem with believing an entity that large can act in a socially healthy way is that it ignores the diversity of wants, needs, preferences, motivations, and circumstances in a society with 300 million people. When meddling in the affairs of those people, the leaders of the Federal Government cannot comprehend the effects of their actions across the entire group. It is an *impossible* information problem.

    By definition, private enterprise is, if not downright sociopathic, at least indifferent to society’s well-being. If good results from its operation, it’s only as an accidental byproduct.

    It is not a “happy accident” that good results from competitive free enterprise, is it a core feature of such. Letting people compete to satisfy the needs of other people resolves the information problem far better than mandates from on high. Note that municipalities also practice a form of free enterprise by trying to provide the order and services necessary to keep a happy population, and therefore attract more people (and, by extension, more tax money).

    Requiring citizens to spend a couple years serving their country (as they do in Israel and Switzerland, I believe) could well make us more civic-oriented, less selfish people. Make us think of ourselves as citizens and not just consumers.

    Your comparison fails. You’re talking about two small countries that must conscript people to maintain viable militaries. In the case of Israel, it is a necessity of their existence. In this nation, we have the same provision to be called upon when needed. It’s the draft. No country on the face of the earth currently requires that people be universally conscripted to do public works, which is the trail Obama is starting us down. See this Volokh Conspiracy post for more of what certain leftists have in mind.

    If you want to create a less selfish people, foster a sense of self-reliance. People can afford to be selfish when they delude themselves into thinking the government will do good for them. They’ll tell themselves the poor have welfare, they don’t need me. Artists can get government grants, they don’t need me. The infirm have Social Security and Medicare, they don’t need me. Has it ever occurred to you that the increase in materialism and selfishness in this country has coincided with the increase in benefits provided by the government? Not to say correlation is causation, but it’s fair to say we did much better for each other when Uncle Sam wasn’t a charitable organization.

  22. superdestroyer says:

    If I remember correctly, the Constitution gives Congress the power to raise an Army and thus the draft in constitutional. I do not remeber the Constitution giving the Congress the ability to have involuntary servitude for social engineering purposes. But then again, I do not remember where social engineering is mentioned at all as one of the roles of government.

  23. It’s a nightmare of an idea. It’s an idea advocated by arrogant people who think their ideals are superior to other people’s ideals. They think it’s a moral good to make young men and women go through a kind of re-educating experience in the hopes of making it more likely these youths will become more like themselves.

  24. “My son’s private school requires a minimum of 20 hours of community service in order to graduate.”

    The key word there is “private.” If you don’t want that imposed on you, you can take your business elsewhere. However, if you refuse to obey such mandates imposed by government, sooner or later you wind up in jail.

    “If I remember correctly, the Constitution gives Congress the power to raise an Army and thus the draft in constitutional. I do not remeber the Constitution giving the Congress the ability to have involuntary servitude for social engineering purposes.”

    The Constitution, in the 13th Amendment, specifically prohibits involuntary servitude of any kind except as a criminal penalty. The 13th Amendment, being later in time than the original text of the Constitution, trumps Congress’s powers to raise an army to the extent of a conflict. While the Supreme Court upheld the draft against 13th Amendment challenge during WWI, the opinion was flag-waving nonsense and not serious legal analysis. I take the position that the draft would also be unconstitutional involuntary servitude; however, even if it isn’t, Obama’s Young Pioneer Corps (yay, let’s invoke Stalin instead of Hitler!) still definitely is.

  25. Andy Freeman says:

    > But, in theory at least, a democratically-elected government is sociophilic, that is, it exists to promote the general welfare.

    Not at all. Theory predicts that democratically-elected govts are captured by interest groups. Practice verifies that capture.

    > By definition, private enterprise is, if not downright sociopathic, at least indifferent to society’s well-being. If good results from its operation, it’s only as an accidental byproduct.

    Wrong again. A private enterprise that doesn’t satisfy its customers loses them – see GM. A private enterprise that doesn’t satisfy its employees loses them to employers that do. A private enterprise that doesn’t provide sufficient return to its investors doesn’t get investment.

  26. Andy Freeman says:

    > Make us think of ourselves as citizens and not just consumers.

    “Make”?

    It didn’t take long for the gloves to come off.

    Govts, democratic or not, are inherently force-based. If you don’t go along with the program, they bring out the thugs.

    When private enterprise or religion tries that, they get slapped down. Good folks condemn private or religious thuggery. In fact, they even claim that non-violent acts by religion or private enterprise are thuggish to turn public opinion.

    For some reason, those same good folks applaud thuggery by govts.

  27. Margo/Mom says:

    “If I remember correctly, the Constitution gives Congress the power to raise an Army and thus the draft in constitutional. I do not remeber the Constitution giving the Congress the ability to have involuntary servitude for social engineering purposes.”

    You may recall that one feature of the draft is to elect not to participate due to dictates of conscience. Yet conscientious objectors have been required to serve, in fields such as mental health.

  28. Religion can serve a similar purpose, but why should we leave such an important job to religion?

    This would be funny if it were ironic. As it stands it is one of the most ignorant statements I’ve read all year. Religion, or the lack thereof, lies at the center of one’s world view and, therefore, one’s behavior. It is the most powerful force on earth. In our country’s history religion animated men to found universities, charitable organizations and benevolent institutions unlike any seen before. I don’t think the role of religion in America can be overstated. It is at the core of all cultures, and was once at the core of our now disintegrating Western culture. Now that we have grown sophisticated enough to toss it on the ash heap, I guess we must replace it with big government. Maybe Obama really is the Messiah.

  29. Point #1: This escalates the arms race for college admission in that volunteerism is already a key factor that aids the children of the upper class in the admissions race. Now that every college applicant will be equalized, to a large degree, we can expect colleges to start de-emphasizing volunteerism and focusing on some new activity, like unpaid internships.

    Point #2: What will be done with the high school kids who are shipped off to ACORN type organizations and instead of mainlining the communist ideology start lecturing all the people that they encounter on the wisdom of self-reliance, the need to spurn ACORN-advocated dependency? Will the fail the ideological test?

    Point #3: Anyone who can manage to steal 20 identities can earn an easy $80,000 per year doing make-work. Why be a janitor, a fry-cook, or work in a slaughterhouse, when you can simply go sing folk songs to seniors in a senior’s home?

  30. Ponderosa said, “Look, government can be awful.”

    Correction: Government IS awful. Here, we have the next logical step for our own government, which has ignored the Constitution for over 75 years: Chairman Obama will MAKE you serve. It’s not enough that you pay exorbitant taxes for crappy schools and overpriced government services. Now, you must also give MORE. This time, it’s your children giving more for the government school that is serving them poorly.

    Folks, a nation reaps what it sows. We’ve sowed the seeds of socialism for many, many years and now the harvest is ready. Too bad for us.

  31. The federal government may not have exercised the draft since the Vietnam war (I’m ignoring stop-loss for now as I suspect we haven’t heard the last on that yet), but we still have the selective service. And the only point of having the selective service up to this point is the potential to institute the draft at some future date. So it seems premature to say that we have yet shed ourselves of the draft. And I for one am not for getting rid of it.

    Also there were many soldiers in the past who were drafted. Do we consider the service they rendered less honorable because they were drafted? It wouldn’t surprise me if some of those draftees have earned the Medal of Honor, one of the highest honors for service that can be given by our society. With the invocation of stop-loss, its become clear that volunteering for military service is an open ended obligation. And its an obligation that not all soldiers really wanted to fulfill. So when soldiers follow through on this obligation involuntarily does this mean that the service they render is somehow cheapened because it was not strictly voluntary. I don’t think so. I agree that making a service an obligation changes the nature of it — if you’re married you know what I’m talking about –, but I don’t think it makes that service any less honorable or worthy. So I don’t find that making a service an obligation cheapens it in any way, and often infuses it with ennobling qualities.

    This is an excellent topic, because it brings out the issue of what obligations Government can place on Citizens. Perhaps the fundamental question of Government. At least we have a Government that’s designed to deal with people disagreeing on this issue. And so far that Government has only suffered from a single instance of secession. My suspicion is that people that don’t like Obama’s idea for requiring service of the beneficiaries of public education are probably prone to taking issue with the existence of public education. I suspect this is because they believe government shouldn’t be in the business of promoting or requiring good behavior but only in the business of preventing bad behavior. Public education as it exists today requires the good behavior of the students in that they have to show up for school. It also requires the good behavior of tax payers to continue funding the education of other people from which they do not directly benefit. So I don’t believe that the idea for requiring public service is the introduction of radical socialism — and since this is a long enough comment already and its rather late I’ll defer commenting on whether it makes sense to say American Government is socialist.

  32. markovchaney says:

    Thor forfend that Americans should be asked to do something to help their country, even strongly encourage to do community service! So much better under GWB, where we could have a lovely war in Iraq for oil, revenge, whatever, and only the poor or gullible (and their loved ones) had to pay for it with their bodies, lives, sanity. The rest of us just paid what promises to come to $3 Trillion. And go out and spend like everything is business as usual. Oops. Economy collapses.

    Apparently, most readers/commentators here never heard of the 1930s and 1940s in this country during the Depression. Did Roosevelt’s programs turn us into a Communist country? (Well, some of the more idiotic readers here will probably say “Yes,” being the sorts of “thinkers” who find any policy or political thought to the left of Attila the Hun to be “Communist” or “Socialist” or, oddly, “Fascist.” The genius who threw in “Arbeit macht frei” should be ashamed, but won’t be.

    So don’t ask for or push heavily for community service or anything that might contribute to the greater good. JFK obviously was another Commie fascist. What happened to “United we stand” or is that only when someone else does the work?

  33. “The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation’s challenges.”

    How much will constantly changing, untrained (although free) labor help to solve these problems? In the latest issue of IEEE Spectrum, they talk about weapons spending and use the F-22 fighter as an example. The cost is $137,000,000 each. The government is going to buy 183 of them. The US has lots of money. The problem is not money, but a good solution to invest in.

    If someone knows the solution to a problem, but depends on inexperienced volunteers for the job, then something is seriously wrong. Of course, America Serves is not about fixing problems. It’s about feeling good. Our schools encourage volunteerism, but they set very low expectations. Kudos go to those who just go through the motions. Obviously, the goal is not results, but some sort of community feel-good-ness.

    In the case of students, I don’t want to see America Serves, I want to see America Educates. Many of the problems that need to be fixed have roots in education. How is it better to have kids help out in soup kitchens or pick up trash when they can’t pass trivial state tests? The goal is not more help at soup kitchens, but to eliminate the need for soup kitchens.

    Volunteering is not a solution. The goal is to fix problems, not feel good.

  34. “Also there were many soldiers in the past who were drafted. Do we consider the service they rendered less honorable because they were drafted?”

    Absolutely not, but also absolutely beside the point.

  35. My suspicion is that people that don’t like Obama’s idea for requiring service of the beneficiaries of public education are probably prone to taking issue with the existence of public education. I suspect this is because they believe government shouldn’t be in the business of promoting or requiring good behavior but only in the business of preventing bad behavior.

    Actually, it’s not even about behavior. It’s about the fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property that the social contract of this nation is built upon. The federal government has no principled role outside of protecting these in the manners laid forth in the Constitution.

    The draft, which you mention, was a necessary evil to protect the citizens of the nation. Jury service, likewise, is a necessary imposition on people to assure the right to a fair trial. Drafting people for a national service corps does not square with this, since the actions they will take are not in the defense or service of our fundamental rights.

    Also, from a practical standpoint, I suspect that this program will have precisely the opposite effect from what’s intended. When faced with having to put in 50 or 100 hours a year for the bureaucracy that will inevitably spring up around this requirement, teenagers will unite *against* the idea of community service.

    Finally, if you think this will stop with those getting the benefits of public school, Google “Rangel Universal Service Act 2007”. It drafts *everyone* from 18-42 into two years of servitude in the military or a civilian service corps.

  36. Charles R. Williams says:

    $40 an hours for praying outside of abortion clinics. Great idea. What? That’s not what you had in mind. But why should kids get paid $40 an hour to collect recyclables (an essentially superstitious activity that consumes non-renewable resources) and not get paid for saving lives?

  37. Quincy,

    Sure, protecting life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the fundamental way that us Americans speak about preventing bad behavior.

  38. Dave J,

    Sure, if you don’t think the Government has the right to establish some obligations then it doesn’t matter. But there seemed to me to be a thread in the comments that expressed the opinion that volunteering was a more nobler path than taking on obligations. I voiced my dissent to this belief.

  39. Stacy in NJ says:

    Would participating in a public demonstration or vounteering to organize said demonstration satisfy the mandated requirement? I can’t wait to see the first March on Washington protesting this mandate, as it satisfies the requirements of the mandate.

  40. PM said, “So I don’t find that making a service an obligation cheapens it in any way, and often infuses it with ennobling qualities.”

    Sorry, but (being drafted for war aside) if you don’t understand the difference between students being compelled to complete service and students freely volunteering for service, I’m not quite sure what to say to you. We have lost something in our language (or in shared cultural values) that does not enable us to communicate.

    Dave J said, “Also there were many soldiers in the past who were drafted. Do we consider the service they rendered less honorable because they were drafted? Absolutely not, but also absolutely beside the point.”

    Thanks, Dave. Now, that I can understand.

  41. Anon,

    You seem to have gotten my point exactly as you see its applicability to the draft. I’m guessing that you don’t see the service that students could perform as vital to the nation and hence you see that case differently.

    As far as Obmaba’s plans are concerned I don’t see anything concrete enough to respond to and hence why I chose to respond only to it philosophical aspects.

  42. Hey, you know else is good for people? Exercise. Why don’t we make morning exercises mandatory? We could all meet outside around 6 am and block leaders could take roll call. Think how helpful this would be for the greater good of our society. You know what else is good? Eating dinner together as a family. Let’s make it mandatory to eat dinner with our families. This way we can strengthen bonds and talk about what volunteer projects we’ve been enlisted to do. Early bed times might make for a more productive work force and an overall improvement of many people’s moods…

  43. Hey, you know “what” else is good…maybe mandatory comment previews might be in order.

  44. pm –

    If you think that preventing “bad behavior” is the same as protecting the fundamental rights of the citizenry, you’re *very* mistaken about the founding principles of this country. According to the ideals upon which this nation was based, I can do any “bad” thing I like so long as I don’t infringe on the rights of another. I can be an absolutely vile person, thinking terrible things, watching lewd movies, cussing, overeating, drinking, doing drugs, and generally being repulsive and it is *none* of the government’s business as long as I keep it to myself. As long as I’m not harming anyone and contributing to the function of government through paying taxes, government has no legitimate interest in making sure I’m a good or healthy person.

    It is not only the government’s right to establish obligations beyond those absolutely necessary for the maintenance of fundamental rights (and yes, property, which you left out of the formulation, IS a fundamental right as understood by the authors of the Constitution), the federal government is only allowed two forms of mandatory service under the Constitution–jury service and military conscription, which both arise from authorities specifically granted to the federal government.

    In addition to being fundamentally opposed to any requirement from the federal government for community service on moral and practical grounds, I also question whether it would pass Constitutional muster given that there’s no core power that it’s attached to.

    Put simply, this is a bad idea on every level.

  45. PM said, “Anon, You seem to have gotten my point exactly as you see its applicability to the draft. I’m guessing that you don’t see the service that students could perform as vital to the nation and hence you see that case differently.”

    Uh, PM, the high school students wouldn’t be defending their country in time of war. They would be completing a mandatory graduation requirement. In addition, the person who is drafted is being paid for his service. The high school student is not.

    The attitude that it is appropriate for the government to force students to perform mandatory service (and have the audacity to call it volunteerism) is why so many parents have not only left failed government schools but also fear the hand of the leviathan called government.

  46. Quincy,

    Sure Governments don’t have to make every bad behavior illegal. My main point was to contrast bad behavior with good behavior, because I think people see preventing bad behaviors as different in nature from making people engage in good behaviors. Which I think is why we had prohibition, but have not yet had mandatory morning exercise.

    Good point on the constitutionality, seems likely that having obligatory service would require a constitutional amendment for the federal government to act on it directly.

  47. Anon,

    Ok, you’ve given some details as to why you think the case is different. Although I thought someone mentioned that the students would get paid, but I can’t verify this myself as I didn’t see that kind of substance on the webpage. In general I thought the webpage was rather vague.

    Didn’t seem to me that anyone was claiming obligatory service was volunteerism. I took the change to the website to mean that Obama and team had decided against obligatory service.

  48. MTheads,

    So by simple extension I’d guess you think the whole endeavor of public education is oppressive. If that’s not the case, I’m curious to hear more.

  49. Part of the community service will be building the reeducation camp for you dissenters. Remember dissent used to be patriotic. It’s quite ironic that convicted criminals can’t be compelled to work on road crews because that violates their rights but school kids can be compelled to pick up trash and that doesn’t violate theirs.

  50. pm

    Just because some public endeavors are good doesn’t mean all public endeavors are good. That’s not a good argument for national service. I suppose then you must be for all public endeavors since you think some are successful? Or do you also use your brain to judge each proposal on its own merits? I hope the latter. I judge compulsive national service as a bad idea.

  51. Andy Freeman says:

    > Thor forfend that Americans should be asked to do something to help their country, even strongly encourage to do community service!

    I note that my questions about the definition of “community service” has not been answered by its advocates. I’ll repeat it.

    What counts as community service?

    In some of the more enlightened parts of the US, the Boy Scouts are considered “unclean”. Will working with them be considered “community service”? How about registering Repubs? How about advocating for “shall issue” CCW or teaching gun safety (with actual guns)?

    We know why they’re not answering – they know that an honest answer will reveal that their “community service” is an attempt to pre-empt activities that they don’t like and to push their social agenda.

    > Did Roosevelt’s programs turn us into a Communist country?

    They did make the Great Depression “Great” by lengthening it by a about 7 years.

    It’s unclear why this is seen as a good thing.

  52. MTHeads,

    Since your comment was not focused on evaluating the merits or lack thereof of the proposal I was making the simple guess that you might have a philosophical disagreement with it. I’m guessing from your second post that my initial guess was wrong.

  53. pm

    Sorry, I misread your post. I don’t like to wear my reading glasses. I thought you wrote “public endeavor”. Not too bright of me. But I am certainly not against public education. I do think our school system is stuck in the past and needs a complete overhaul. But I only want it up-dated, not eliminated.

  54. Whole lot of specifics being debated on something that hasn’t even been written yet.

    Perhaps some of those who believe that any such construction is a constitutional violation could point to some legal challenges that have derived from existing community service/high school graduation requirements (although I don’t even know that any specifics regarding whether this would apply to high school students OR graduation have been contemplated to date).

  55. Margo –

    There are two differings standards for Constitutional violations. For the states and municipalities, only those provisions of the Constitution that the court has held to be incorporated against the states apply, e.g. the First Amendment applies while Article I does not. As far as I know, there have been no successful challenges to a municipal or state program on those grounds.

    For the Federal Government, any action must pass *all* restrictions in the Constitution as well as being included in one of the powers explicitly granted to the Federal Government. My argument for Obama’s proposal being unconstitutional as stated is that it would fail a 13th Amendment challenge because it is a conscription of labor that does not follow from an explicitly-stated responsibility of government, as the draft and jury service do. Only the Federal Government needs to draw its powers from language in the US Constitution, since states and municipalities draw their powers from their own constitutions/chartes.

    I hope this helps clarify that a valid Constitutional challenge exists.

  56. Quincy:

    I hope you are not saying that (you believe that) involuntary servitude does not apply to actions of states and municipalities.

  57. “Only the Federal Government needs to draw its powers from language in the US Constitution,”

    Correct.

    “…since states and municipalities draw their powers from their own constitutions/chartes.”

    Incorrect in part. Local governments have the powers granted them in their organic documents and in state statute, so that is correct. However, state constitutions are not GRANTS of power like either the federal constitution or a city charter: they are limitations on INHERENT power, the unlimited sovereignty that the states, alone, inherited from Parliament upon independence. The federal government, and local governments, may only do that which they are authorized to do: the states, by contrast, may do anything that they are not forbidden to do, whether their own state constitutions or by valid federal law (the federal constitution, federal statute, a treaty, or federal administrative regulation).

  58. Margo –

    The 13th Amendment has been incorporated against the states for other things, but not this. I’m saying the Federal Government has a greater limitation placed upon it in by the US Constitution than the states do since the Federal Government is only granted specific powers by the US Constitution.

    So, if this does get struck down on Constitutional grounds, the ruling might impact state and local programs depending on the reasoning Supreme Court used. If it reasons that the Federal Government cannot do this because of there is no enumerated power for it, the states may still enact an identical program. If the court reasons that the program is a violation of students’ 13th Amendment rights, then the states and municipalities would also be considered to violate the students’ rights if they enacted such a program, and hence would be barred from doing so by the ruling. (If not barred, at least it would provoke another valid challenge.)

    So I’m not saying that I believe this, I’m saying that’s the lay of the land in terms of the law. My personal belief is that, where school attendance is compulsory, any service requirement imposed by a state or municipality is a violation of the 13th Amendment and therefore unconstitutional. I’m also the type who tends to believe very little in exceptions to constitutional limits on power, again putting me at odds with the current legal worldview.

    Dave –

    You’re quite right, I spoke inaccurately, and misspelled charters while I was at it. I’m 2-for-2!

  59. “The 13th Amendment has been incorporated against the states for other things, but not this.”

    The 13th Amendment doesn’t need to be incorporated against the states through the 14th. It’s not like the original Bill of Rights that were recognized as only limiting federal power before 1868: it’s simply a blanket prohibition, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist in the United States…” It applies to the states by its own terms.

  60. pm said, “I took the change to the website to mean that Obama and team had decided against obligatory service.”

    If we were truly the country that the Constitution says we are, this issue is none of Obama’s and the federal government’s business. There is nothing in the Constitution which suggests that the federal government should be involved in any way with education. But, we’ve been ignoring the Constitution for so long, it is the default position that the federal government is supposed to be involved in everything. In reality, it should be involved in very little of our everday life.

    Soon, the federal government will be taking over even more of our lives. Then, every day will be just like the definition of socialism: Socialism is like spending every day in line at the DMV. My poor children. Poor us.

  61. Ah, and so it begins. In the next 4-8 years it’s going to suck to be 18-25 years old. Either you follow the Obama administration’s federal mandates, or you don’t get your high school diploma and/or go to college!

    Since the U.S. government is in the process of taking over (bailing out) the mortgage, insurance, investment, automobile, and airline industries anyway, maybe some of that “Community Service” will end up being working for those taken over (bailed out) companies for free.

    “The federal government has decided that you will work for GM for free for six months. If you refuse, you can be barred from attending a college in the United States, or spend up to six months in jail, depending on the nature of the refusal.” (i.e., just quietly protesting against it vs. going to the local news station to make a news story out of it) “This is your required duty to be an American citizen.”

    Great, where do I sign up? Oh, wait… they already signed it for me.

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  2. […] to implement.  What critics attacked was a proposal on Barack Obama’s change.gov site to require students to put in service hours. Obama heard the critics and changed the wording to make service a […]