June 17, 2002 - National Review: Big Brother, National Nanny
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June 17, 2002 - National Review: Big Brother, National Nanny
Big Brother, National Nanny
Read and comment on this op-ed piece from the National Review by Doug Bandow who says that the president is living an illusion if he believes that expanding the Peace Corps will demonstrate America's compassion by going "into the Islamic world to spread the message of economic development" at:
Big Brother, National Nanny *
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Big Brother, National Nanny
Confusing politics with compassion.
By Doug Bandow
Service is good. Which is why Americans have organized to help their neighbors since before there was a United States. But we don't need more government service, like that being promoted by President George W. Bush. Unfortunately, President Bush seems to have confused politics with compassion.
Administration officials are now saying that they want to develop some form of civics education to capitalize on the outpouring of patriotism after September 11. Only the lack of a well-developed program caused the president to drop the initiative from his State of the Union speech earlier this year.
But at that time President Bush did unveil a related initiative to do more than just encourage Americans to be compassionate people and good citizens. He proposed that the federal government finance and organize their activities. "Join the USA Freedom Corps," he said, before challenging Americans to love, mentor, and stand up.
Among his many initiatives, which have received a warm reception from Republican legislators who disdained similar Clinton proposals, are an expansion of Bill Clinton's AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, and John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps, along with the creation of an entirely new Citizen Corps. They would all operate under the USA Freedom Corps, employ 200,000 new volunteers, and cost more than a half billion dollars extra next year.
The first two would encourage existing forms of "service." The Citizen Corps would spur Americans to fight terrorism. Everyone from mail carriers to truckers is to report suspicious activity, people are to volunteer with the local police and man neighborhood watch programs, retired doctors are to act as a medical reserve for governments, and others are to be trained to offer aid in a crisis.
The president is a piker compared to Senators John McCain (R, Ariz.) and Evan Bayh (D, Ind.), who would quintuple the size of AmeriCorps alone. A few commentators even propose conscripting the four million men and women who turn 18 every year into some form of government "service."
Americans demonstrated their good hearts with their outpouring of aid after September 11. It demonstrated the dramatic possibilities of voluntary social action, a process both more compassionate and flexible than any political program financed through taxpayer exactions.
Indeed, even before September 11 Americans generously volunteered; an Independent Sector survey found that nearly half of adults gave of themselves, for an average of 81 hours a year. People are much more likely to give some time when asked and wealthier individuals are most likely to volunteer.
This is a proud U.S. tradition. Never content to wait for government to act, Americans worked with families, friends, and neighbors to help those around them.
There's still much more to be done, of course. Which is why no one could reasonably disagree with the president's call on Americans to "love somebody, mentor a child. Stand up to evil with acts of goodness and kindness."
But what does the government have to do with promoting goodness and kindness? Civic education rightly received a bad odor at the time of the Vietnam War. The problem is not patriotism, but the government's use of patriotism to justify its own flawed policies. Anyway, despite the Bush administration's rush to federalize education, this is an area that should remain a local and state responsibility.
Yet the Bush proposal comes at a time when Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I) vetoed a legislative mandate to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The former navy SEAL rightly noted: "No law will make a citizen a patriot." Demanding a profession of patriotism, backed by the sanction of school discipline and even suspension, is an insult for a free people.
As for service, George and Laura Bush can certainly lead by example, but there is no reason to assume that the president's proposed 4,000 hours is the right level of service over a lifetime. As the Apostle Paul explained in writing to the Corinthian church, "see that you excel in this grace of giving." (2 Corinthians 8:7) People should give generously, whatever their circumstances; today many devote far more time than suggested by the president to helping others.
Nor should government take the lead. The Bush Citizens Corps has the unmistakable air of makework. Moreover, what do its proposed tasks, however laudable, have to do with the federal government? Local and state governments are to serve as the focus for law enforcement and in the first instance respond to emergencies. Every City, USA, not Washington, D.C., should be the repository of lists of retired health care professionals.
The president is living an illusion if he believes that expanding the Peace Corps will demonstrate America's compassion by going "into the Islamic world to spread the message of economic development." Muslims who are prepared to kill Americans distrust the U.S. government above all. There is a better chance of improving relations through private organizations with no connection to Washington.
Then there is AmeriCorps, once opposed by the GOP. The organization hires volunteers for private groups, offering a college tuition award, living allowance, and fringe benefits.
The president says simply "I think the country needs to provide opportunities for people to serve." But the U.S. is already doing so. Otherwise 84 million Americans wouldn't be volunteering — without the government's "help."
AmeriCorps managers Stephen Goldsmith and Leslie Lenkowsky laud the program for compiling "an impressive list of achievements." But there is plenty of bad — political abuse, waste, and low priority work, much of it documented by investigative journalist Jim Bovard.
Goldsmith and Lenkowsky also contend that groups "require assistance, either to compete successfully for grants and contracts or just to strengthen and expand what they already do." Yet the issue is not whether good private groups could put more money to good use. Of course they could. The issue is, who should give them the money?
There's no doubt that it is easier to employ Uncle Sam to pick taxpayers' pockets than to convince Americans to voluntarily give. Yet government funding doesn't always guarantee increased volunteer activity: in some cases AmeriCorps employees simply replaced local salaried staffers.
Moreover, easy though taxpayer funding may be, right it is not. If voluntarism means anything, it is that actions are voluntary. And real compassion involves personal sacrifice, not making other people sacrifice.
There's another, more fundamental objection. AmeriCorps continues the process of government supplanting individual responsibility for those in need. People have long organized themselves, chosen groups to support, and gotten personally involved, thereby strengthening the sinews of society. But Uncle Sam has spent nearly a century taking control of areas of life once left to a vibrant civil society.
The private sector has been pushed into the background by the welfare state. It has become all too easy for people to say, "I gave at the office" and ignore even glaring needs around them. Still, a vibrant, if small, private charitable sector has survived. Now government wants to take over funding it as well, by giving grants and providing volunteers.
Thus, government will decide what kind of jobs should be done and which volunteers should be hired. It will control the independent sector, turning it into another arm of the welfare state. And make active citizen involvement unnecessary. Unfortunately, there is a sense of inevitability to the process. Last week the House Education and Workforce Committee approved the largest increase ever in the program, to $913 million, and the administration promises to push for more. The "program is not going to disappear," says Lenkowsky, head of the Corporation for National and Community Service. He advises conservatives to simply try to make the program better — in effect, be more efficient tax collectors and program administrators for an ever more expansive welfare state.
The president is pushing increased voluntarism and patriotism for the right reasons, but he has chosen the wrong means. Americans should give more. They should serve more. And they should more fully imbibe patriotic values. Uncle Sam should not, however, do it for them.
— Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and a former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan.
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