Washington Post Op-Ed Columnist & Author of Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religous Right, E.J. Dionne Jr., wrote today about Barack Obama’s Call to Service speech that was given in December (Watch Excerpts from the speech here).
If the 2008 election is to be a debate about the true meaning of patriotism, then bring it on…Obama already has the template for moving the debate in this direction. In December, he gave one of his best, and least noticed, speeches: a call to national service. The policies he proposed include a doubling of the Peace Corps and an expansion of the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 to 250,000 slots. (President Bush, by the way, deserves credit for saving AmeriCorps from the hostility of some in his own party.) Obama would link his $4,000 tuition tax credit to a service requirement…But Obama’s speech was about more than programs. It was suffused with the rhetoric of a reformer’s patriotism. “I have no doubt that in the face of impossible odds, people who love their country can change it,” he said. “Loving your country shouldn’t just mean watching fireworks on the Fourth of July; loving your country must mean accepting your responsibility to do your part to change it.”
Dionne closes his Op-Ed with two endings:
- A competition between Obama and McCain over who can issue the most compelling summons to service would serve the country far better than an empty rhetorical skirmish over which of these candidates is the true patriot (From the Post).
- This is Obama’s opportunity: to pledge to be the president who asks us to serve. Doing so would promote a debate not about which candidate is a patriot but on what each candidate believes patriotism means (From Reformer on fire with love of country)
On Labor Day 2007, Obama did just that when he signed the ServeNext.org Presidential Pledge to Expand National Service. On the other side Senator McCain’s response to any issue advocacy group with a pledge campaign is, “I don’t stand on pledges I stand on my record.” And to be honest his record is very good. In October of 2001 McCain wrote the article Putting the “National” in National Service later that year he introduced the Call to Service Act that would have expanded service slots to 250,000. He says:
If we are to have a resurgence of patriotic service in this country, then programs like AmeriCorps must be expanded and changed in ways that inspire the nation. There should be more focus on meeting national goals and on making short-term service, both civilian and military, a rite of passage for young Americans.
So both Obama and McCain are committed to 250,000 Americans annually in serving through national service programs. Obama has said so in a major policy address & signed our pledge to expand national service, and taking Senator McCain on his record commits him to 250,000 national service members as well. Obama has formally announced his plan to expand national service. And on the other side It gives me hope that during the Republican Primary I have often heard Senator McCain say he would double AmeriCorps, but I am still waiting and hoping he formally announces a plan to expand national service. Dionne is absolutely correct when he says “a competition between Obama and McCain over who can issue the most compelling summons to service would serve the country.” Let the debate begin.