Obama Youth Corps?

My least favorite parts of President Obama's inaugural address were the passages where he suggested that every individual has vaguely defined duties to the collective. When he said our immigrant ancestors "saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions, greater than all our differences of birth or wealth or faction," I could not really disagree at that level of abstraction, but I had a feeling he had more in mind that I did. When he said we honor America's soldiers "because they embody the spirit of service...precisely the spirit that must inhabit us all," I was a little more uneasy. And I was shaking my head at this part:

We have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

One can think of ways to interpret this charge that are consistent with limited government and individual liberty. But it is much easier to think of ways in which such rhetoric invites the use of force to implement someone's grand ideas of collective responsibility and national purpose. Here, for example, is Southern Illinois University journalism professor William A. Babcock in Monday's Christian Science Monitor, reading Obama's "new era of responsibility" as an invitation to launch a "mandatory youth corps" in which every high school graduate would be compelled to participate for two years. Although members of the youth corps would only be paid minimum wage, "they would be provided with room and board" (just like in prison!) and get two years' college tuition afterward. As for their work, it would depend on whatever the "national need" happened to be at the time, but it might have something to do with "education, infrastructure repair and maintenance, construction, healthcare, the military, and the arts."

Babcock explains why America needs a mandatory youth corps:

The times call for legitimate regeneration, not a feel-good tweak, and a piecemeal, voluntary approach simply would not promote the sort of permanent cultural change the financially strapped 21st century increasingly demands. Rather, a mandatory youth corps rich with a variety of service options would benefit every participant and citizen alike, while at the same time helping to instill a permanent "service mind-set" throughout the nation—a gift of shared responsibility, as it were.

Evidently the idea of using the state to impose "permanent cultural change" (a cultural revolution, as it were), instill a "permanent service mind-set," and enforce "shared responsibility" gives some people a warm feeling. I will never really understand that, just as they will never understand why such rhetoric sends a chill down my spine. After all, this is the good kind of collectivism, not the creepy fascist/communist kind.

Although implementing his vision would be "a mammoth undertaking," Babcock says, "so are trillion-dollar financial bailouts." That's worse than a non sequitur. It's bad enough that the government is saddling our children and grandchildren with trillions of dollars of additional debt at the same time that the unpayable bills for Social Security and Medicare will be coming due. On top of that, if folks like Babcock have their way, it will also be forcing them into indentured servitude for two years so they can perform whatever sort of arbitrary make-work Babcockian bureaucrats think would be nice.

For his part, Obama says "middle and high school students should be expected to engage in community service for 50 hours annually during the school year or summer months," which sounds pretty mandatory but not nearly as daunting as the two years of "service" Babcock has in mind. Then again, Obama envisions "universal voluntary citizen service." I don't think I'm going on a limb by suggesting there's some tension between the first and second adjectives. If it turns out that a few Americans would rather not devote their time to teaching inner-city youth, digging ditches, or painting murals so they can fulfill their duties to the nation, which aspect of the plan do you think Obama is prepared to give up: the universality or the voluntariness?

Paul Thornton decried Obama's (and John McCain's) fondness for "national service" in the May issue of Reason. Other Reason coverage of the subject here and here.

[via The Freedom Files]

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  • Kolohe||

    By golly, yes, I *would* like to know more.

  • ||

    Don't forget that there is no way in hell that such a thing would be "universal". Just like the military draft, there will be loopholes and ways for the connected and rich to get their kids out of service. So, just like the military draft again, this burden would fall harder on the lower classes--who presumably most of this community service was aimed at.

    It's so vastly beyond stupid that Obama, in talking about it, is either disingenuous as hell about actually doing anything to make it happen, or he is stupider than K-Fed on Special K. I'm going to go with the former, which is also why I'm not worried about it.

  • Tyler||

    As long as I get an Obama Youth knife and a neat-o armband signifying my allegience.

  • ||

    I propose a mandatory journalism professor corps at minimum wage, with room and board- I'm sure we can find some left-over WWII Army barracks and chow halls.

    Any ideas for services to be performed by this new corps?

  • steveo||

    From Reason's own Cathy Young on life in the Soviet Union:

    When I was 14 or 15, a teacher assured us that a plan was underway to have everyone's occupation assigned by the government, because it was too disorderly to let people choose for themselves and none of us slackers wanted to work in factories anymore. There probably never was any such plan, but it was plausible enough to be scary -- just like the rumor circulating at school that upon graduation, we would be forced to "volunteer" for work on the much-hyped construction of a new railroad in Siberia. "They" owned you. "They" wanted your allegiance, too.

  • Hormonal Redhead||

    "...not the creepy fascist/communist kind."

    Is there any other kind?

  • ||

    What about national servants? I could use a few of those around the home and to do some gardening and yardwork for me.

  • Off-Topic?||

    Steele Wins RNC Chair Election, 91-77 over Katon Dawson

  • Ya Gotta Love It!||

    First Black President Calls for Enslavement of Nation's Youth.

  • dhex||

    "It's so vastly beyond stupid that Obama, in talking about it, is either disingenuous as hell about actually doing anything to make it happen, or he is stupider than K-Fed on Special K."

    i'm hoping for disingenuous as all hell myself.

    creepy shit.

    (of course, were this bush the younger, the reaction patterns would be reversed for the dems and repubs, so i guess there's the comforts of partisanship)

  • Mike Laursen||

    Under Babcock's plan every American kid who wants to go to college would have to wait two years? What about all of the foreign college students? Would they be allowed to get a two-year career jump on all the American kids? Do people like Babcock spend even twenty seconds thinking through the possible consequences of their ideas?

  • creech||

    Let's make sure, if this passes, that any 501c3 will qualify to set up community service activity. Then we recruit libertarian-minded youth to fulfil their service by appearing at community meetings and voicing displeasure at things like banning salty foods, raising property taxes, higher pay for government teachers, mocking the safety police, urging an end to the drug war, etc.

  • Ska||

    Tyler, you could really hurt someone with a knife. Here's a foam rubber spoon and a helmet, just in case some rapscallion decides to horse around at Obama's Holiday Camp.

  • Ray||

    G iving
    I n
    T o
    M andatory
    O bligation

  • ||

    "Why do you resist? We only wish to raise quality of life for all species."

  • The Angry Optimist||

    I hope this goes through, then there will be a captive market for my forthcoming book, Quotations from President Obama.

    I'm thinking of making it small enough to carry in your pocket and giving it a red-colored binding...you know, 'cause red is an eye-catching color.

  • The Angry Optimist||

    Oh, never mind. The Fucking Freepers beat me to it.

  • The Angry Optimist||

  • The Angry Optimist||

    That's what I get for using a proxy server.

  • Elemenope||

    Treating the inane spoutings of random Journalism professor X like they proceeded from Obama's mouth is approximately as stupid as treating Limbaugh's rants as if they were the verbatim policy suggestions of the Bush Administration.

    Do people like Babcock spend even twenty seconds thinking through the possible consequences of their ideas?

    I doubt it.

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Hey, I thought young people would want to clean my bathroom!

  • ||

    Fuck the draft, at any age, military or not. We are not the property of the government.

    -jcr

  • These Youth Better Not...||

    ...turn a profit for the Federal Government:

    "There will be time for them [Wall Street Bankers] to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses," Mr. Obama said during an appearance in the Oval Office with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. "Now's not that time. And that's a message that I intend to send directly to them, I expect Secretary Geithner to send to them."

    - President Barack Obama

  • Jordan||

    "There will be time for them [Wall Street Bankers] to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses," Mr. Obama said during an appearance in the Oval Office with Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. "Now's not that time. And that's a message that I intend to send directly to them, I expect Secretary Geithner to send to them."



    The market was about to send them that message by booting them out on their ass until you fucking rewarded them with an $800 billion bailout, you pompous tophat.

  • ||

    Say, this is a Great Leap Forward.

  • SpongePaul||

    We have duties to ourselves to not trample the rights of others and to protect this country from invasion.

    This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

    There I "corrected" it for Hitler.. errr Obama

  • ||

    Schemes like this shows how the totalitarian mind's world-view is not ideologue-based, but a facet of a particular psychology.

    Its a strange pattern, but statists are always looking to get young people chain-ganged up for their pet projects. The Pyramids might be an original example of this (talk about stimulus spending!).

    It will be awesome someday when the youth of America are doing things like installing a golf course for Congressmen and their special-interest guests. Or building the prison that will end up being used as a coercive tool to make them live certain ways, based on edicts from on-high.

    An interesting, undoubtedly corrupting component of any scheme like this coming down the pike will be how the rich kids get their deferments. There will be some protective, exempting mechanism for the offspring of the Elite. I wonder if anyone will get mad when the poison fix for that is inserted in the bill. The pols will obfuscate that and hope no one notices 'till it passes, so they'll have to "sneak" it in there somewheres. Probably on page 426 or so, right under the authorization for $10 million to build the Ketchup Viscosity Study Institute of America or some other pork-shit.

  • ||

    Then we recruit libertarian-minded youth to fulfil their service by appearing at community meetings and voicing displeasure at things like banning salty foods, raising property taxes, higher pay for government teachers, mocking the safety police, urging an end to the drug war, etc.



    Excellent idea. If this goes through, let's use it against them. Have students run petition drives for getting the LP ballot status. Man OPH booths at farmer's markets. Go door to door for candidates. And of course, to wave "end mandatory service requirements" signs during presidential inaugurations.

  • ||

    What is not supposed to be my concern! First and foremost, the Good Cause, then God's cause, the cause of mankind, of truth, of freedom, of humanity, of justice; further, the cause of my people, my prince, my fatherland; finally, even the cause of Mind, and a thousand other causes. Only my cause is never to be my concern. "Shame on the egoist who thinks only of himself!"

  • Mike Laursen||

    Let's make sure, if this passes, that any 501c3 will qualify to set up community service activity. Then we recruit libertarian-minded youth to fulfil their service by appearing at community meetings and voicing displeasure at things like banning salty foods, raising property taxes, higher pay for government teachers, mocking the safety police, urging an end to the drug war, etc.

    I like it. It would be a nice twist if we kept claiming it is a performance art project meant to enhance American culture at the community level. Especially if we could be really condescending to critics who don't understand the concept behind our piece.

  • Elemenope||

    I like it. It would be a nice twist if we kept claiming it is a performance art project meant to enhance American culture at the community level. Especially if we could be really condescending to critics who don't understand the concept behind our piece.

    Every idea's greatest weakness is, invariably, itself. Of course, this sadly also applies to the subversion of the idea, which is itself an idea.

  • ||

    It's both monumentally stupid and evil, but has that ever stopped anyone with good intentions?

    Since neither Obama nor the Dems in congress have proposed it. Until then, I've other fish to fry.

  • ||

    Great. There was a tiny outside chance that the Youth Of America(tm) would keep paying into Social Security long enough for me to have a chance at getting some of my retirement cruises paid for. Now they'll all be high-tailing it to Canada.

  • ed||

    every individual has vaguely defined duties to the collective

    It has always been defined thus, hasn't it? (With a few exceptions, of course.)

  • ||

    On the other hand, I don't see any problem with requiring national service to qualify for any government assistance. In that equation I would include corporate welfare. No grandfathering in of those that are currently getting it. If you are currently getting any government assistance or ever wish to in the future, to qualify, or continue to qualify, you must EARN IT by doing national, or state, or county, or city service, depending on what form the hand outs are going to take. And it should be on a 1:1 ratio

  • Paul||

    Everyone should start listing their "vaguely defined" duty to the collective?

    Poll?

  • Orange Line Special||

    Interesting post but, as could be expected, didn't reveal everything involved. For that, you have to turn to those who are usually day or more ahead. OK, in that case I was almost three months ahead. A day, three months, who's counting?

  • Paul||

    Orange line, you should purchase some ads.

  • SpongePaul||

    Obama and this country's direction have gotten me seriously considering moving when i retire or when my parents pass. Forced "voulunteer" labor, strong unions socalized healthcare, socialized banks, and lenders, schoold teaching intelligent design. Our Founding Fathers would never ever ever live here, this is the place they were rebelling against!!!

  • Brenda||

    Anyone who thinks that black males in the ghetto will go along with this shit is nuts.

  • XAnthippas||

    Forgive me for being confused, but what are you criticizing here? Obama, or Babcock? From your post, one would have trouble understanding that Babock's plan and Obama's are not really the same, at least until you give it away at the end:

    "For his part, Obama says "middle and high school students should be expected to engage in community service for 50 hours annually during the school year or summer months," which sounds pretty mandatory but not nearly as daunting as the two years of "service" Babcock has in mind."

    "For his part" indeed, but don't let that stop all the sighing and head-shaking that you're enjoying so much.

    Better reasoning please.

  • MNG||

    Such a program would be a monumentally terrible idea for a great deal of reasons.

    Many young people would be doing something else with their time that would benefit others far more were they not impressed into this.

    Others have pathologies that would make it impossible for them to be a part of this.

    Oh, and it's like slavery.

  • jtuf||

    I oppose the mandatory national service, but the proposal doesn't suprise me. We alway force children to performed unpaid work during grade k-12. Demanding a couple more years is not that much of a jump.

  • ||

    For his part, Obama says "middle and high school students should be expected to engage in community service for 50 hours annually during the school year or summer months" . . .

    . . . Because, after all, all children belong to Il Duce.

  • ||

    My least favorite parts of President Obama's inaugural address were the passages where he suggested that every individual has vaguely defined duties to the collective.

    This gives me a scary image of what your more favorite parts sounded like, because I found the entire speech to be a rehash of Mussolini's . . .

    Oh, wait - you guys elected Il Duce! Except this one does not have an enormous head. Pity.

  • MattXIV||

    Babcock has managed to come up with a proposal that is collosally stupid even by the standards of manditory service schemes. "Service" right out of high school, voluntary or not, is a monumental waste of resources. Recent high school graudates generally don't have any specialized skills due to not having had time to go to college or learn a trade, so you can only use them for unskilled labor, which does not include teaching, medical services, the arts, or any but very basic construction and repair tasks under the supervision of someone who knows what they are doing. After 2 years of experience in a trade they may acquire a bit of useful skills, but at that point they're off to college or to get a real job.

  • Dittohead||

    treating Limbaugh's rants as if they were the verbatim policy suggestions of the Bush Administration

    If only they were we'd be living in foreign military aggression conservo-libertopia!

  • Maobama||

    The Great Middle Class Cultural Revolution for working families.

  • Mad Max||

    I'm assuming (because of my decision to be optimistic) that the President doesn't actually believe in this sort of stuff (except in a vague, let-me-say-something-uplifting kind of way), but there are people like Babcock who seem to believe it, not to mention Emanuel.

    'Then again, Obama envisions "universal voluntary citizen service." I don't think I'm going on a limb by suggesting there's some tension between the first and second adjectives.'

    Nonsense - if a citizen doesn't volunteer, his block captain simply has a talk with him, and he'll adopt a more service-oriented civic spirit. All quite voluntary!

    More realistically, service will be promoted as one of the strings attached to federal benefits - Obama, if he is clever, could cite William F. Buckley's proposal along the same lines in his 1990 book gratitude. Obama could say, "in the words of the great conservative, William F. Buckley," then read from the book.

    'Just like the military draft, there will be loopholes and ways for the connected and rich to get their kids out of service.'

    Alternatively, there will be different *kinds* of service for the connected and the non-connected. The latter could, for instance, pick up trash by the roadside, and former could write grant proposals in air-conditioned offices.

  • ||

    Babcock is just one of the thousands upon thousands of academics that the market wouldn't support, who dreams up schemes to increase the power of the government. Why would he care about trifles like the thirteenth amendment?

    -jcr

  • ||

    Say, this is a Great Leap Forward.

    Hopefully, our people will rebel before we lose 77 million people like the Chinese did.

    -jcr

  • Fluffy||

    There's no tension in the phrase "universal voluntary citizen service" at all.

    It will be "universal" in the sense that if you don't do it you go to jail. It will be "voluntary" in the sense that you will get to "choose" from among approved alternatives for how to fulfill your service, and you will "volunteer" the information about how you fulfilled your requirement by filing a form with some government bureau. Our "universal voluntary citizen service" will be like our "universal voluntary taxation system".

  • Orange Line Special||

    XAnthippas opines: Forgive me for being confused, but what are you criticizing here? Obama, or Babcock? From your post, one would have trouble understanding that Babock's plan and Obama's are not really the same

    That's why I provided the link above. As you can read at the link, a BHO site originally had it as a requirement, then they disappeared that when people pointed it out. And, RahmEmanuel, in his book, promoted it as a requirement.

  • ||

    most of our immigrant ancestors came to america to make more money, avoid being killed, and get enough food

    they didnt give two shits about any sort of magical metaphysical multiplier effects

  • alan||

    Fluffy | January 30, 2009, 7:58pm | #
    There's no tension in the phrase "universal voluntary citizen service" at all.

    It will be "universal" in the sense that if you don't do it you go to jail. It will be "voluntary" in the sense that you will get to "choose" from among approved alternatives for how to fulfill your service, and you will "volunteer" the information about how you fulfilled your requirement by filing a form with some government bureau. Our "universal voluntary citizen service" will be like our "universal voluntary taxation system"


    I cooperate only to the extent it keeps me out of jail. This idea of Babcock's sounds so much like jail that I think me and pretty lips would rather take our chances in cells crammed with rapist, and male rapist and daddy rapist than I would being under the thumb of some goofy liberal Poindexter.

    Less horrifying scenario all the way around.

  • alan||

    think me and my pretty lips would rather take our chances in cells crammed with rapist, and male rapist and daddy rapist than I would being under the thumb of some goofy liberal Poindexter.

  • cunnivore||

    I was assuming it was "voluntary" in the sense that the electorate chose the people who instituted the mandatory service scheme.

  • ||

    "If it turns out that a few Americans would rather not devote their time to teaching inner-city youth, digging ditches, or painting murals so they can fulfill their duties to the nation, which aspect of the plan do you think Obama is prepared to give up: the universality or the voluntariness?"

    You're missing the point in your snark.

    The military is voluntary, but not universal - many people are excluded from service. But the factors that make people unsuitable for military service need not apply in civilian life.

    Taken to the logical conclusion, Obama's use of universal would mean that they'd find ways for people to contribute in some way regardless of, say, fitness level or disability.

  • ||

    Is there really any doubt about what Obama is saying or what kind of language this is? Do you really need to read between the lines or is it completely plain as day?

    This is the language of the collectivist, the socialist, the fascist. Everything that America stands against. Of course, when you have a population that is completely oblivious of what America stands for and what liberty and freedom really mean then they can be conned into voting for an outwardly fascist and collectivist criminal like Obama. The population of the US does not have the sophistication to understand what fascism is and how it gains hold at a grass roots level. Even the so called educated Americans do not understand this.

    I suggest anyone who is unsure of what Obama means in these speeches to go and read "Barack H Obama: The Unauthorized Biography" by Webster Griffin Tarpley. You won't find a more comprehensive, well researched and damning indictment of Obama and his criminal cronies.

  • PretzelLogic||

    Taken to the logical conclusion, Obama's use of universal would mean that they'd find ways for people to contribute in some way regardless of, say, fitness level or disability.

    Jacob Sullum's point was easy to decipher and could hardly be called snark as it addressed contradictory words in a phrase he was dissecting. What you state on the other hand is convoluted.

    You seem to be saying that the 'universality' of any plan that would come out of this would be so all encompassing that 'volunateerism' would be irrelevant. At least that is the best guess I can offer given the material you give me to work with here.

    It may be Sullum's fault to assume that the reader would understand that humans are willfull and active agents, but maybe he should have stressed this in his post above because you seem to think the only objections someone would have to a plan of this nature is physiological,
    'regardless of, say, fitness level or disability' as you put it. Whereas, personal ability to perform these requirements has nothing to do with Sullum's point.

  • ||

    Yet another reason to allow twelve year olds to vote. Anyone think they'll support this shit? It might also spur a little better civics training, but only if we can get the NEA out of the way.

  • Neu Mejican||

    For his part, Obama says "middle and high school students should be expected to engage in community service for 50 hours annually during the school year or summer months," which sounds pretty mandatory

    Putting aside the nonsense from Babcock, unless I am mistaken, this post is essentially critical of truancy laws and graduation requirements.

    Does that about sum it up?

  • alan||

    To sum it up, and to paraphrase one of the South Park Creators: 'I hate Communist, but I really fucking hate Communitarians'.

  • alan||

    and Neu,

    Putting aside the nonsense from Babcock, unless I am mistaken, this post is essentially critical of truancy laws and graduation requirements.

    Does that about sum it up?


    Did you ever complain about the draft registration requirement for graduation?

  • ||

    "You seem to be saying that the 'universality' of any plan that would come out of this would be so all encompassing that 'volunateerism' would be irrelevant."

    Um, no. As I said, the military is voluntary, but NOT universal. People in wheelchairs need not apply. Blind and deaf people need not apply.

    Obama's "universal" means they will find roles for anyone who does volunteer, and that anyone can volunteer. It does not mean that everyone will be forced to particpate, obviating the 'voluntary' part.

    This is not a difficult concept.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Jon H,

    Careful, you are making too much sense.
    Sullum's head might explode.

    alan,

    Sure, there are lots of things to complain about in society...but Obama is suggesting that community service be part of the curriculum.

    It is easy to make a case against compulsory education.

    It is harder to make a case against standards for graduation in an educational setting.

    To conflate compulsory education with fascism is just hyperbole, particularly if you are using the fact that there are graduation requirements to that education as your evidence.

  • alan||

    To conflate compulsory education with fascism is just hyperbole,

    Funny, I'm the one engaged in hyperbole? Though I do not in any way support draft registration and I personally had to dragged kicking and screaming by my martial arts tourney champ brother to sign up for it, most Americans would be amused to see it described as fascism (they would also be amused how we libertarians throw that word around).

    Yes, the comparison is very much apt because both are forced upon us by political means. Some right wingers believe military service 'might do you some good', and some left wingers believe compulsive social work 'instills citizenship', and both sides are a public nuisance.

    Since you insist on insulting my intelligence by pretending there is an abstracted social good involved to which we should focus our debate, I will be a bit more blunt, this is nothing more than a means to further subsidize leftist activism, even if some of the monies go to politicaly nuetral activities, that is its sole purpose.

    You can pretty it up however you want, but come on, this a board devoted to political actions, rhetoric and theory, almost every one here is familiar with the political landscape of at least their own locality and some us, including myself, have worked in Washington, you know where the money is going, and you know the organizations that will be subsidized. Don't play stupid.

    Jon H,

    You may want to check to see if there already exist a meaning to the word 'universal' when it is applied to social organization before you go through the trouble of attempting to invent one.

    I'll save you the trouble because I am just that civic minded:

    Including, relating to, or affecting all members of the class or group under consideration

  • Angry Sam||

    There's nothing that will destroy the meaningful and valuable experiences associated with service like making it compulsory.

  • MJ||

    I'd rather expect service will be "universal" and "voluntary" the same way compliance with the IRS and Selective Service is. Refusal to volunteer will have regrettable legal consequences.

    "It is harder to make a case against standards for graduation in an educational setting."

    No it is not. Particularly when a standard for graduation has little or nothing to do with actually being educated.

  • Neu Mejican||

    alan,

    Sorry for the misunderstanding. I was saying that Jacob Sullum was the one engaging in hyperbole by conflating educational requirements with the fascism.

    Your follow up comment, however, does seem to support that conflation.

    Like I said, an argument can be made against compulsory education.

    MJ,

    Experiential learning is an important part of education. It is commonly argued that the primary purpose of public education is to learn the knowledge and skills needed to be a citizen. In that context, a community service requirement is a perfectly reasonable approach to teaching citizenship skills.

  • ||

    Unintended consequence - if you DON'T graduate from high school, you are exempt?

  • Invisible Finger||

    It takes a black guy to reinstate slavery.

  • Mendel||

    Yeah, um, I think you just made that up. There isn't any mention of a mandatory peace corp anywhere. If you want to help our nation, use facts instead of propaganda.

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