November 07, 2008

The Hope Brigades

In his victory speech on Tuesday, Obama promised to ?summon a new spirit of patriotism; of service and responsibility where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.? This evoked quite a response in Grant Park, as well as amongst the mostly white, youngish, middle and upper-middleclass New Yorkers I was watching the speech with.

I?m pretty sure that all those shouts of approval amounted to a kind conspicuous consumption of altruism. Everyone was feeling really virtuous after electing America?s first black president; however, I seriously doubt anyone truly expected to sacrifice more, pay higher taxes, or do more community service in the coming four years. And whether any of Obama’s vague, platitudinous assertions (“summon a new spirit of patriotism”) actually have any policy implications has always been in doubt. 

Well, I’ve taken a look at Obama?s new official website,, and it appears that the our new leader might actually be planning on forcing us to have Hope. 

The ?Service? section of the site opens with the observation, “President Bush squandered an opportunity to mobilize the American people following 9/11 when he asked Americans only to go shopping.” The agenda itself begins with some promises to expand existing programs: 

Expand the Peace Corps: Obama and Biden will double the Peace Corps to 16,000 by 2011. They will work with the leaders of other countries to build an international network of overseas volunteers so that Americans work side-by-side with volunteers from other countries.

Thus the taxpayer will pay for even more do-gooders with liberal arts degrees to go act self-important in Africa. Great. But all this seems benign in comparison with what comes next, as much of the rest of the agenda is clearly compulsory:   

Obama and Biden will set a goal that all middle and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year. They will develop national guidelines for service- learning and will give schools better tools both to develop programs and to document student experience. [My emphasis]

College students, too, will ?volunteer”:

Require 100 Hours of Service in College: Obama and Biden will establish a new American Opportunity Tax Credit that is worth $4,000 a year in exchange for 100 hours of public service a year. [My emphasis]

Much of the rest looks like Obama will try to recreate things like the Works Progress Administration, in which the government will try sop up the unskilled and unemployed with state-sponsored busywork: 

Green Job Corps: Obama and Biden will create an energy-focused youth jobs program to provide disadvantaged youth with service opportunities weatherizing buildings and getting practical experience in fast-growing career fields.

?Disadvantaged youth? is a obvious euphemism. Let?s hope in the next four years, we don?t have tons of new ethno-brigades like this being formed at taxpayer expense: 

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