Paranoid Right-Wingers See Obama's Volunteer Service Project as Sinister Plot to 'Re-Educate' Americans
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The closest thing in the bill to the dystopia of conservative nightmares is a clause in Section 120 that sets as a condition for some programs the integration of "service learning" into the curricula of secondary schools receiving Service Act funds. This "mandatory service learning" clause is what Bachmann has in mind when she warns of leftist "re-education camps."
And what, exactly, will America's future volunteers be learning in these "camps" before doing the devil's work of retrofitting energy-inefficient homes, providing emotional support to homeless veterans and tutoring poor children in math and English?
According to the bill, educational programs funded under the bill will be designed to: "promote a better understanding of (A) the principles of the Constitution, the heroes of American history (including military heroes), and the meaning of the oath of allegiance; (B) how the nation's government functions; (C) the importance of service in the nation's character."
Sounds like a Weathermen's plot to me!
If the Service Act seeks to instill the sober virtues of patriotism and selflessness, why did 168 congressional Republicans vote against it?
The closest thing to an answer is found in the Senate floor speech delivered by Jim Demint, R-S.C., who assailed the bill without resorting to "coming-fascism" hysterics. Demint warned that expanding national public service infrastructure would destroy civil society by undermining self-reliance and pushing out private charity, essentially arguing that volunteerism is a zero-sum game.
"We cannot replace private charity with government programs," he said. "If we try, a lot of people are going to miss meals [and] suffer cold winters and leaky roofs."
Here is the familiar conservative refrain that government can't do anything right, but with a bizarre twist. Demint is saying that not only will government-sponsored volunteerism fail to accomplish good, its very existence will forever poison the idea of altruism in America. It apparently doesn't matter that the "cold winters and leaky roofs" Demint worries about are among the very problems that the Service America Act is designed to ameliorate. Along with creating a Vets Corps and an Education Corps, the Service Act establishes a thousands-strong Clean Energy Corps to retrofit and insulate homes as part of the larger goal to "improve energy efficiency and conserve natural resources."
This rubs up against another source of (mostly unspoken) conservative opposition to the bill. The Service Act, with its surprisingly strong emphasis on the environment and energy, is arguably the first government initiative that addresses the energy and climate crisis with anything like the war-level attention it deserves.
The launching of a Clean Energy Corps echoes FDR's 1941 creation of the Office of Civilian Defense, which organized volunteer civilian support for World War II. These councils helped organize, recruit and train volunteers for wartime programs ranging from scrap-metal collection to rationing. Obama's Clean Energy Corps also reminds one of the New Deal's Civilian Conservation Corps, launched in 1933, which employed millions of young Americans planting trees for nearly a decade.
No doubt many conservatives hate the Service Act because of its strong New Deal aroma. But the Act ties into groups with more recent lineages that touch an even rawer conservative nerve.
There is anger on the right that the Service Act will benefit groups involved in dreaded "urban community organizing." These groups often have ideological origins in the early New Left and Great Society programs of the 1960s. Among them are ACORN and Public Allies, where first lady Michelle Obama was the founding executive director between 1993 and 1996. That organizations embodying the tactics and ideals of Saul Alinsky will benefit from government largesse is maddening for the right.