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Timothy Carney

Timothy Carney, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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Opinion

Partisan divide makes a new national service corps impossible

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Timothy Carney

Timothy Carney, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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Most Americans have less confidence in the country’s future, and many attribute that sentiment to an extreme partisan divide. To mend these relationships, some experts believe mandating national service could be unifying.

Straight Arrow News contributor Timothy Carney says a new national service corps would likely prove ineffective. He asserts America’s polarizing climate would prevent agreement on what initiatives would benefit the country most.

That’s why some politicians and commentators look back to those golden years for a solution to our current polarization and alienation. They don’t call for another World War and mass deployment of men to the Pacific and continental Europe, but a more peaceful variation of war: a massive new national service corps — maybe even mandatory service.

The New York Times editorial board asked what could be objectionable in asking all young people to pause before plunging into the scramble of adult life to donate some of their time and energies to some socially beneficial, critically needed service at home or abroad.

Here are two objections:

First: The Times was writing about mandatory service, and so it’s not “asking all young people” to serve. It’s forcing them to do so.

The second objection is more prickly. Read those words of the New York Times again. They want young people to “donate some of their time and energies to some socially beneficial, critically needed service….”

Well, our society is so fractured that we could never get consensus on what is “socially beneficial” or “critically needed.”

The United States is coming apart in all sorts of ways. Americans are lonelier than ever before. The Surgeon General this summer issued a report on the pandemic of loneliness, and a record 21% of Americans in a recent poll said they were extremely dissatisfied with the state of American democracy. Americans trust and like their countrymen much less than in past generations. 

 

Compared to the middle of last century, we are much more likely to describe our fellow Americans as selfish or immoral, and much less likely to describe them as generous. America’s peak as far as neighborliness, civic mindedness and happiness seems to have been the two decades following World War Two. Unemployment was low, people were getting married, we had a baby boom, and Americans knew and trusted their neighbors.

 

That’s why some politicians and commentators look back to those golden years for a solution to our current polarization and alienation. They don’t call for another world war and mass deployment of men to the Pacific and continental Europe, but a more peaceful variation of war, a massive new National Service Corps, maybe even mandatory service.

 

The New York Times editorial board asked what could be objectionable in asking all young people to pause before plunging into the scramble of adult life to donate some of their time and energies to some socially beneficial, critically needed service at home or abroad? Well, here are two objections. First, the Times was writing about mandatory service, and so that’s not asking all young people to serve, it’s forcing them to do so. 

 

The second objection is more quickly read those words of the New York Times again, they want young people to quote, “donate some of their time and energies to some socially beneficial, critically needed service.” While our society is so fractured that we could never get consensus on what is socially beneficial or critically needed. Take crisis pregnancy centers. These charitable organizations provide health care and pregnancy screenings to women in difficult pregnancies, typically unmarried women, young women, immigrant women. They also offer adoption referrals or parenting help, along with plenty of donated toys, baby clothes and maternity wear. 

 

It’s hard to think of a more socially beneficial and critically needed service. Yet in the eyes of Democratic politicians. These crisis pregnancy centers are a scourge because they’re pro-life. Senator Elizabeth Warren has called on the federal government to crack down on them and to drive them out of business. What a Democratic administration allow a young person to fulfill her public service requirements by volunteering for a crisis pregnancy center? 

 

Would a Republican administration considered public service to help Planned Parenthood with its abortion business? What if you volunteered for your church? Given the extreme ideas these days about separation of church and state even that would run into objections. The idea of national service to bridge our divides sounds appealing, but those very divides make the idea impossible in America today.

 

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