Lunch conversation helps spark debate on national TV about AmeriCorps (Video)

Posted by Zach Maurin on September 9, 2011

You never know who you might bump into during lunch in Washington, DC. And it’s even better when the chance encounter sparks a debate on national TV.

On Wednesday, I happened to see former Governor, presidential candidate, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean. I asked him if he knew if national service and AmeriCorps are in President Obama’s much anticipated job’s speech (we now know they aren’t).

Former Governor Howard Dean

He didn’t know. I briefly reminded him of the value of these programs to create jobs, deliver vital services, and help rebuild America’s economy.

Fast forward about six hours. Dean is on national TV (The Kudlow Report on CNBC). When asked how to create jobs, he focuses on AmeriCorps! Nice!! Every piece of media helps in this climate and we commend Dean for illuminating the role of AmeriCorps to put people to work.

But, that wasn’t the end of the clip. Things quickly got a bit more dramatic.

The other guest with Gov. Dean was former Congressman Dick Armey who responded to Dean’s comments with “AmeriCorps is one of the most asinine programs…it’s an insult to the American family…and it’s just a waste of money.”

Armey continued with his wildly confused beliefs about AmeriCorps and claims that it’s really a disguise to train activists for democratic campaigns. Wow.

There are all times when we need to “agree to disagree.” Everyone isn’t going to like AmeriCorps and that’s okay. This is not one of those times: Dick Armey is beyond wrong. This is not opinion. It’s fact.

Former Congressman Dick Armey

Gov. Dean deserves much credit for interrupting Armey and calling out his nonsense. Watch the clip here:

National service is a no-brainer right now for the country. Young people are ready to serve. More than 500,000 applied to fill about 85,000 AmeriCorps positions last year. For a cheap price and youth unemployment nearing 20%, America could put young people to work to meet pressing needs in education, health, the environment, and more. Pressing needs are far more expensive to America when left unaddressed.

And when people are unemployed they aren’t gaining skills, contributing to the country, paying taxes, or spending money.

Dean gets how national service is a cost-effective, impact-proven answer to those problems. So do other former and current Governors – including Republicans Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour. Same with the Presidents with the last name Bush. The late conservative thought leader William F. Buckley wrote an entire book on the value of national service.

Senators Orrin Hatch and John McCain have both supported record expansion of AmeriCorps (though both could be talking about it a lot more). Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are also proponents.

The list of Republican supporters goes on and on and on.

I often get asked what we can ask our political champions to do since they’re already supportive of national service. This experience with Dean is one great option: frame the benefits around the issue of the day and ask them to use whatever platform they have. Some are on TV a lot; others can get op-eds published; ask them to lobby their colleagues in Congress.

The national service field needs all of its proponents in politics to do more in this current budget fight. Often they will, but we have to ask even if we might interrupt their lunch.


15 Responses to “Lunch conversation helps spark debate on national TV about AmeriCorps (Video)”

  1. Leila Pedersen said

    Wow Zach! This is just the kind of dialog we need to hear right now. For too long we have heard people discount the impact of national service and fail to properly message the programs effectiveness. So glad that you were able to influence this critical discussion. Keep up the good work!

  2. Angie Bertrand said

    Thanks for bringing to our attention Zak! I hope it will bring more discussion and attention at the National level so folks can be better educated about National Service. Former Congressman Armey is not alone in his perspective, I have educated individuals that have thought AmeriCorps was another welfare program or democrat ploy myself. It is from ignorance, once the time is taken to explain National Service they get it. Keep up the good work & communication!!

  3. Betty Smith said

    Actually, believe it or not, there are some people out there who don’t necessarily “agree” that Americorps is “great.” Are you really suggesting that to challenge whether Americorps should exist and/or how is somehow “not right”? Where’s all that democracy, tolerance, and diversity that seems to underscore all the promotion around service? If you don’t like what Armey said, that’s fine, but to say that “it’s not ok to agree to disagree” about a particular government program and whether it is cost-effective in terms of job creation and/or other metrics hurts the uplifting ethos that those who support Americorps are attempting to strengthen.

  4. Zach Maurin said

    Leila, Angie, and Betty — thanks for your thoughts!

    Betty — I think you missed what I’m saying. I said specifically: not everyone will support AmeriCorps and that’s okay. However, what is simply fact is that AmeriCorps is NOT a training program for the democratic party to create democratic activists. It’s not affiliated with the democratic party in any way. Dick Armey, for whatever reason, thinks this is the case. Many thinks are opinions and perspectives vary. This is not one of those situations — there is a right and a wrong here. Dick Armey — and anyone who believes what he said — is wrong. Spreading conspiracy theories on national TV for political gain is what will hurt AmeriCorps.

    Thanks for your thoughts. -zach

    • It’s an interesting point by Armey. I guess the way to determine is to figure out what people who work for Americorps do?
      Do they join campaigns?
      Do they support a particular ideology?

      Zach I guess we could start with you.
      Who did you vote for in the last election?

      • Zach Maurin said — Determining what people do in AmeriCorps is not determined by asking what campaigns they join or about their ideology. It’s determined by asking what they do while they’re on the clock with AmeriCorps. When I was a corps member, I worked in a middle school teaching a social justice curriculum during the school day, spent after school time tutoring in a community center, and then received leadership development training at other points during the week.

        Dick Armey is making baseless claims about the purpose of AmeriCorps. Personal voting choices and ideologies is not related to my post or Armey’s.

      • You wrote: “AmeriCorps is NOT a training program for the democratic party”

        If this is true, then organizations like yours and Americorps would have a board and members made up of people with similar political views to ALL of America. This would mean about 50% Dems and 50% Republicans.

      • “Dick Armey is making baseless claims …”

        Americorps was started by the Clinton Administration.

      • My favorite part about your responses is that you make up your own rules.
        Attack one man for his opinion “Americorps is breeding ground for Dems” — because it isn’t.
        Then when asked about your ideology, ignore question and say it doesn’t matter.

        Americorps and programs similar do some good in the world. That’s a fact that can’t be argued.
        They also have a strong slant to the left.

  5. Just checked out your board.
    Who did they vote for?

    • I think your confusing your arguments. What Zach is saying is that national service is bi-partisan, not that the people who do national service are 50% democrats and 50% republicans. Responding to natural disasters, addressing the drop-out crisis, supporting military families and our vets transition to civilian life, helping senior citizens continue to live in their home, etc. are not partisan issues. That is why you have many prominent Republicans like George Bush 41 (who started the Points of Light Foundation), George Bush 44, John McCain, Gov. Haley Barbour, Rick Santorum, and many others support AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and all national service programs.

      If your argument is that the people who apply to do AmeriCorps and serve in programs like Teach for America, Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, ect. slant to the left that is one thing. But don’t mix your points and say the programs themselves are training camps for Democrats. American taxpayers are paying for AmeriCorps members to cost effectively address real challenges facing America (mentioned above), not for them to get training on how to be Democratic campaign workers as Dick Armey suggest. That is flat out wrong and the point Zach was making

      • Jerry,

        1. Who did you vote for in the last election?
        2. Did you apply to work for George Bush’s program?

        1. All Democrats
        2. No you did not apply to work for Bush’s program because you know that it is more likely to be conservative-minded, right-wing-esque.

    • Why wont you or Zach answer the questions about your ideology?

      Dick Armey suggested that the ideology of these programs are slanted to the left.
      That’s it.
      He wasn’t saying you’re bad people.
      He was’t just presenting an argument.
      Your response — “flat out wrong”.

      If it Amrey is indeed flat out wrong — then show that there is an equal amount of left wingers as right wingers at YOUR organization, not at President Bush’s

  6. So City Year does not create Democratic operatives?

  7. shiseido said


    […]Lunch conversation helps spark debate on national TV about AmeriCorps (Video) « Blog[…]…

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