Nationalized Service
By: Lowell Ponte
Wednesday, January 30, 2002

"A THOUSAND POINTS OF LIGHT," voluntary and private efforts to help others, said President George H.W. Bush, make today’s America a shining city on a hill. Our nation’s generosity of spirit comes neither from kings nor government, but from our own individual caring.

Our leaders have often called for "national service" of various kinds. George Washington won the American Revolution with an army of patriotic volunteers. Abraham Lincoln won the War Between the States with the first conscript army in United States history.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt fought Great Depression joblessness by employing volunteers in his Civil Conservation Corps and other government programs to improve our land. As Governor, Ronald Reagan provided jobs and taught literacy with his California Conservation Corps.

Harry Truman wanted compulsory military training for all young men, an idea that continues today in the Universal Military Training and Service Act (H.R. 3598) co-authored by Congressmen Nick Smith (R-Mich.) and Curt Weldon (R-Penn.)

John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps to send idealistic volunteers overseas and inspired its domestic counterpart VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America). Modeling himself on JFK, President Bill Clinton created AmeriCorps.

President George Bush (the First) proposed YES, Youth Engaged in Service to America. And his son President George Bush (the Second) has called for charity tax deductibility for non-itemizers, created a faith-based initiative to encourage voluntary religious assistance to others, and now wants to expand the Corporation for National and Community Service (devised under President Clinton to administer AmeriCorps) to create a true "Citizen Corps" of volunteers

It is noble and good when individuals volunteer to help others. But the alchemical mixing of volunteerism, government, politics, and national service can be socially restorative – or toxic. The Smith-Weldon bill, for example, would draft virtually every young man (women may volunteer) for six months to a year of compulsory training and give government the option to order individuals "to complete the remainder of the person’s required service in a national service program."

The loss of individual liberty through military conscription has been accepted by most Americans, but only when the nation’s defense and survival seemed to require it. Using the military draft to supply free workers for domestic social programs in time of peace is simply un-American. Should a government that already taxes away half of what working Americans earn to pay for such programs also be allowed to conscript their bodies and labor for the same purpose? (Marxist Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship in Zimbabwe has just imposed such enslavement.)

William F. Buckley, Jr., in his 1990 book Gratitude: Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country, opposed "compulsory" national service but proposed that government benefits – e.g., federal loans – be denied to those who had not earned a certificate by doing the required amount of government-approved "voluntary" service. (Certain government benefits today are available only to military veterans.) It’s hard to discern where the carrot ends and the stick begins. Buckley’s proposal would turn those who do not "volunteer" into second-class citizens.

In some parts of America, high schools require 25 hours or more "community service" to get a diploma. Such "coercive volunteerism" means that students never know the joy of giving freely, selflessly of themselves. Their labor is a form of slavery or labor-taxation that creates not civility but servility and serfdom.

Such involuntary servitude can readily be politicized, with Leftists in charge using such requirements to supply free workers for Politically Correct Leftist environmental, poverty, and other groups. AmeriCorps taxpayer-paid "volunteers," e.g., have been used as political shock troops – like National Socialist Hitler Youth – assisting Democrat-aligned activities around San Francisco.

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) defended AmeriCorps last October in The Washington Monthly, noting that 162,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps since its 1961 founding but more than 200,000 since 1994 have served in AmeriCorps and learned "the obligations and rewards of active citizenship."

Sen. McCain chides fellow Republicans who "feared it would be another ‘big government program’ that would undermine true volunteerism, waste money in ‘make-work’ projects, or be diverted into political activism." (In the same article, oddly, he boasts that "staffers at nonprofit groups sometimes call AmeriCorps headquarters looking for support for their organizations, only to find out that their own salaries are being paid by AmeriCorps.")

Senators McCain and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) have introduced their Call to Service Act (S. 1792 / H.R. 3465). This controversial measure offers financial incentives for many kinds of "national service," in effect conscripting taxpayers’ wallets and transferring their confiscated life energy into Politically Correct do-goodism. Whatever happened to Adam Smith’s idea of the invisible hand, the notion that each of us by pursuing our own interests makes the world better for others? When did government become the definer of what is and is not proper volunteerism or useful service to our nation? When was volunteerism nationalized?

Federal money always comes with political strings attached. President George W. Bush discovered this with his faith-based initiative, as Leftist lawmakers demanded that any religious groups receiving government aid hire homosexuals. We should all volunteer to support President Bush’s best and brightest efforts to return power from the government to the people.

Mr. Ponte co-hosts a national radio talk show Monday through Friday 6-8 PM Eastern Time (3-5 PM Pacific Time) on the Genesis Communications Network. Internet Audio worldwide is at GCNlive .com. The show's live call-in number is 1-800-259-9231. A professional speaker, he is a former Roving Editor for Reader's Digest.