National Service

Presidential Candidate John Delaney Has a Plan for America's Young Adults. It's Called Forced Labor.

The only way mandatory national service would "unify" the teens of America would be to cause them to loathe the government together.


A presidential candidate hopes to break out from the back of the pack and into America's hearts by promising to force America's high school graduates to spend a year working for the government, whether they want to or not.

John Delaney has made it into the Democratic Primary debates this week, despite polling between 0 and 1 percent recently and looking and sounding like a character invented by Will Ferrell. Over the weekend he attempted to grab some attention by rolling out a plan for mandatory national service:

Under his plan, he explains on his site, "all Americans would be required to serve their country for at least one year, with an option to serve for two. This requirement would apply to everyone upon turning 18, no exceptions."

What if they haven't yet graduated high school? Is there an exception for that? It would seem like there would have to be. Does Delaney even grasp that birthdays don't always line up with high school graduations?

But the stupidity doesn't stop with the "no exceptions." The whole program is dumb. He says that participants will be paid and will get two free years at a public college or university. If they serve two years, they'll get three free years of college.

These new adults will have four options. They can join the military; they can join a new community service organization, similar to AmeriCorps, that will tutor disadvantaged children or whatever social programs the government decides to emphasize; they can take on a proposed "infrastructure apprenticeship" that would use public/private partnerships to do things like improving parks and upgrading federal buildings; or they can join a new Climate Corps, which "would assist in clean energy projects, including solar installation, improving building efficiency, developing community gardens, and increasing awareness about sustainable practices."

Remarkably, Delaney insists that forcing 18-year-olds to serve government agencies and contractors against their will would "restore our sense of shared purpose and a common and inclusive national destiny."

But we're Americans. We shouldn't have a "sense of shared purpose" and we don't have a common "national destiny," whatever the heck that's supposed to mean. Part of being an American is claiming the right to choose your own adventure and to draw your own map of your future.

This is flat-out forced labor, and paying the laborers doesn't change the fact that you are stealing a year of young people's lives. It's comically absurd to think that compelling them to do whatever tasks are currently on officials' agendas is going to unify them in any way. Just the assumption that these projects match the values of all or even most Americans is itself galling. Forcing an entire younger generation to do an oler generation's bidding will not bring a "sense of shared purpose," any more than drafting them to fight in Vietnam did.

The vast majority of these kids have had 12 years of mandated government schooling. If that has failed to create a sense of unity among them, another year of paving streets and digging gardens isn't going to do it.

And it shouldn't. The American government belongs to the citizens, not the other way around. America's 18-year-olds are not Delaney's property to decide how to best deploy across the country.