McCain ramps up support for National Service on the stump; questions remain…
Posted by aaronjmarquez on December 19, 2007
U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has stepped up his National Service rhetoric on on the campaign trail in recent weeks. Between a nationally-televised event live on MTV and a visit to Timberland, one of the largest corporate champions of National Service, there is no question that the Senator is proud of his past support for AmeriCorps. Questions remain, however, around what role a McCain administration would play in expanding opportunities for Americans to serve their country.
On Monday, December 3rd, four ServeNext members attended the MTV/MySpace Presidential Dialogue with John McCain at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester. Among the questions fielded in the hour-long program, McCain addressed what he would have done differently had he been in the shoes of the President of the United States these last 8 years.
After 9/11, my friends, which none of us predicted obviously, I would have not asked Americans to go shopping or take a trip. I would have asked every single American to find a way to serve their country – to join the military, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, neighborhood organizations; every way that we could find a way for people to serve their country. Americans were united after 9/11, my friends, and I would have asked them to serve, and as President of the United States in January of 2009, I will ask them to serve again.
The Senator’s closing statement carried on the same ethos of service.
I hope that you’ll go see other candidates and get involved in the political campaign and be involved in public service. And if you remember anything I said tonight, please remember there’s nothing nobler than serving a cause greater than your self-interest.
Moderator Chris Cillizza of washingtonpost.com’s Politics Blog even highlighted McCain’s call to service in the wrap-up.
I think what you saw over the course of the night is Senator McCain explaining in a very reasonable and rational way why he feels the way he does and, as he did in 2000, making it very clear (that) he believes that this campaign is not about him; that this campaign is a call to serve the country. And I think that’s a very powerful message.
Later that same week, ServeNext was invited to ride the Straight Talk Express from Bedford to Stratham, where the Senator McCain and daughter Meghan visited The Timberland Company’s Global Headquarters. On the ride over, ServeNext sought out some “straight talk” on National Service.
ServeNext: Yesterday, Senator Obama unveiled a National Service plan that would expand AmeriCorps to 250,000 members – which is very similar to what you wanted to do with the Call to Service Act. Why is it that Democrats seem to be taking the lead on the issue in this election cycle?
Senator McCain: Well, I hope they haven’t. Senator Bayh and I recommended this legislation years ago and fought very hard for… the expansion of AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps, and other organizations. 18 months of voluntary service for $18,000 in educational benefits – and we’ve continued to push that. The (Iraq) War has kind of overwhelmed – and I’m not exactly sure why – but it seems to have driven it to the sidelines.
ServeNext: Your message on Monday at the MTV/MySpace event – to all of the young people that were there – really seemed to be, “We want to get you involved in the government. We want you to take responsibility for the issues that we are facing as Americans right now.” Do you envision yourself making a similar sort of speech at some point in the campaign?
Senator McCain: Oh, yes.
Upon the Straight Talk Express’ arrival in Stratham, McCain was greeted by Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz and given a tour of the company’s facility. The Senator stopped to buy a pair of boots from the on-site retail store, learned more about the unique public-private partnership of City Year New Hampshire under Timberland’s own roof, and greeted military veterans now employed by by the company – including a great American, man, and service warrior, George Bellanger.
The tour proceeded to City Year New Hampshire’s office space, where AmeriCorps members serving in New Hampshire and Boston greeted Senator McCain. He praised them for their dedication, as he did later at the town hall meeting with members of the Timberland/City Year community. ServeNext has has also learned from an advisor to its New Hampshire campaign that the Senator also mentioned his support for National Service at a speaking engagement in Portsmouth later that afternoon and again the following day in Hampstead.
On the blogosphere, pressure continues to build for the Senator to get specific with a major policy address – or at least some numbers around his intentions for AmeriCorps.
Barack Obama joined the call for national service with a major policy address and a pledge to make national service an important cause of his presidency. His December 5th proposal would expand AmeriCorps from 75,000 to 250,000 participants and focus it on the classroom, health care, clean energy, veterans, and homeland security.
We have high hopes that other candidates will follow suit, particularly Mitt Romney, who as Governor of Massachusetts served on City Year’s national board of directors, John McCain, who co-authored a universal national service bill in the Senate, and Hillary Clinton, who has long been a behind-the-scenes champion of AmeriCorps as well as a sponsor of the Public Service Academy modeled on West Point.
When asked for a specific statement on Senator McCain’s plans for AmeriCorps, campaign representatives replied:
Senator McCain has co-sponsored legislation in the past (Call to Service Acts) to boost Americorps’ ranks. The 2001 iteration was to 250k; the 2003 was to 175k. It also had incentives for brief military enlistments.
We have not at this stage in the campaign developed the kind of detail you seek, but Senator McCain is certainly in favor of expanding successful programs to allow personal contributions to society.
Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) remains the only GOP candidate to sign the Presidential Pledge to Expand National Service or issue a statement of support for expanding AmeriCorps by at least 100,000 members. Last night, former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) said in Manchester that AmeriCorps fit in his “budget box,” but that he would “have to see” about growing its membership to accomodate post-9/11 demand by citizens to serve their country.
ServeNext will continue to have a presence at McCain town hall meetings in the days leading up to the first-in-the-nation Presidential Primary on Tuesday, January 8, 2008 and beyond as its national campaign to expand National Service kicks off.