by Jeffrey Folks
As negotiations on trimming the national deficit dragged on this spring and summer, it should have been easy to come up with plenty of programs to cut. One candidate would be the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the umbrella organization that sponsors AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Learn and Serve America, the Social Innovation Fund, and other community service programs. So far, however, thanks in part to vigorous lobbying on the part of its staff, liberal supporters, and alumni, the Corporation has escaped the axe.
The title “United We Serve” is, of course, a take on the popular phrase, “united we stand, divided we fall.” It is a sentiment that can be traced back centuries but that has resurfaced among those on the left. The song “United We Stand” was recorded by the aptly named musical group The Brotherhood of Man in 1970. The same sentiment appears in a host of pop songs, including “Hey You” by Pink Floyd. While “United We Stand” can be understood to mean many things, it has recently taken on powerful suggestions of egalitarianism and universalism — purposes that would seem identical to those of CNCS.
Egalitarianism and universalism are evident in United We Serve’s “My American Story” public service announcements. Featuring Bon Jovi, Usher, and President Obama himself, these radio and television ads call on “all Americans” to get involved in community activism. As a matter of fact, they are practically insulting to anyone who might demur from mentoring disadvantaged children and adults, teaching the disadvantaged how to read, helping to feed the hungry, conducting a home energy audit, planting community gardens, and celebrating the 25th anniversary of Martin Luther King Day by performing community service. As one of the ads has it, you can hardly claim to be living unless you are out there making a difference in your community.
As a fitting tribute to the anniversary of MLK Day, United We Serve suggests that every American perform at least 25 “actions” of community service during 2011. None of those suggested “actions” seem to involve regular employment, at least employment in the private sector. Indeed, those Americans who “just” go to work every day, support their families, obey the law, and mind their own business are portrayed more or less as hopeless deadbeats who should be ashamed of themselves. What are they doing working for businesses that actually produce something of value when they might join the ranks of community servants engaged in organizing, as the Corporation puts it, to “meet growing social needs.”
The propagandistic quality of United We Serve should be obvious. CNCS is not simply encouraging Americans to be more charitable in the way they have always been: by giving generously to their churches and synagogues, for instance. Indeed, there is not a word about charitable religious activity on the Corporation’s website. United We Stand is promoting purely secular forms of community service, and only those forms of service that can be controlled and channeled by bureaucrats at the Corporation. The real purpose of the administration’s increased interest in promoting community service, it would seem, is not the improvement of communities but enlistment of volunteers in support of a leftist worldview.
Community service programs like AmeriCorps and the Social Innovation Fund exist, it would seem, to foster loyalty to the state and belief in the idea that government, not individual initiative, is the answer to pressing human problems. The overriding purpose of these programs is, I believe, to inculcate a government-centric worldview among their young, idealistic participants. The intent is to create a critical mass of lifelong true believers that will continue to support government activism long after their service has ended. Much like military service, which fosters lifelong loyalty to a particular branch and to the military in general, government service produces millions of constant supporters, but with this difference: they are not supporters of patriotism and hard work but supporters of an ideology that is implicitly anti-American and anti-capitalist in nature.
United We Serve cites President Obama as urging Americans “to help build a new foundation for economic growth in America.” Of what might that new foundation consist? According to serve.gov, it involves the administration’s “investments in education, health care, and clean energy.” More specifically, that “investment” entails indirect aid to teachers’ unions, funding for ObamaCare, and subsidies for alternative energy. But are those initiatives “a new foundation for economic growth?”
Obama’s investment in education has done wonders for teachers’ unions but not much for education. The latest national testing shows American high school students woefully deficient in math, science, reading, and just about every other subject. For almost three years Obama has been “investing” more and more in education (and teachers’ unions have been contributing more and more to Democratic candidates), but the result, as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has been a continued deterioration of learning. According to the NAEP’s latest “Report Card” on education, high school seniors have demonstrated little if any progress in basic areas in the last three years. Only one fourth of 12th graders scored “proficient” in history.
As for ObamaCare, in what sense can an entitlement program which is estimated to cost between two and three trillion dollars in its first decade be considered a foundation for growth? Draining trillions of dollars in capital from the private sector is not a recipe for growth.
Likewise, no one can seriously argue that the President’s green jobs initiative has been a success. If it had been — creating the five million jobs that Obama promised in the 2008 campaign and the unspecified millions he continues to promise — wouldn’t some of them have surfaced by now? By one estimate, only 68,000 have.
The mission statements, announcements, reports, and blogs posted by the Corporation for National and Community Service comprise a nearly impenetrable thicket of jargon-filled bureaucratese: lofty promises of “addressing needs,” “transforming lives,” and claims of “accountability” where none exists. Yet, amid all the verbiage, it is difficult to pin down exactly what the Corporation does with its billion-plus in funding. Yes, it erects playground equipment. It encourages tutoring and “mentoring” (whatever that is, in relation to young children who have not even considered what they wish to be, much less begun working). It produces public service announcements and operates a website full of grandiose pronouncements. But what does the taxpayer get for its $1.4 billion in funding?
So far as I can see, very little. But that is not surprising, considering the revolving door of chief executives who have led the Corporation over the past three years, and the background of each of these leaders. As a group, the three recent directors have had extensive experience with minority and women’s issues, low-income community development, and the promotion of affordable housing, including in one case an initiative that may have played a role in the subprime housing collapse that began in 2007.
With a record like that of the Corporation for National and Community Service, one would think this agency would already have been history. Yet the President’s FY2012 budget request for CNCS is $1.26 billion (down from $1.4 billion). As budget negotiations continue, it will be interesting to see what happens to agencies engaged in the work of altering the “foundation for economic growth in America.” To conservatives it seems obvious that we need to get back to the old foundation of unregulated free enterprise and dispense with the costly bureaucracies that aim to transform America into a socialist welfare state.
This article originally appeared on Conservative Battleline Online and is reprinted with permission.