Paranoid Right-Wingers See Obama's Volunteer Service Project as Sinister Plot to 'Re-Educate' Americans
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The far right has seen the fresh face of fascism, and it looks like the civic-minded legislative love child of Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch.
Most Americans applauded last month when the Senate voted across party lines to expand national-service opportunities. How could you not? The Serve America Act, which passed easily 78-20, invests $5 billion in volunteer corps focused on education, clean energy, health care and veteran issues. In a symbolic but meaningful gesture, the bill also designates Sept. 11 as a National Day of Service, thus expanding a post-9/11 concept of patriotism previously limited to dying in Iraq and shopping at JC Penny.
The Service Act will help millions of people learn to read, go to college, stay warm and connect with their fellow citizens. Upon passage, it was immediately hailed by 9/11 survivor organizations, literacy advocates, veterans groups and the AARP.
But not everyone feels warm and fuzzy about the bill whose House version was dubbed the GIVE Act. Among readers of WorldNetDaily and other sites that bridge mainstream conservatism and the lunatic fringe, the biggest question was whether President Barack Obama had shape-shifted from Stalin into Hitler, or had morphed into some grotesque dictatorial hybrid unique to history.
Whatever the genus of the beast, it was agreed in these corners that the Service Act heralded the end of the Republic, the end of Liberty, and the end of Boy Scouts helping little old ladies across the street.
The far right had actually been rehearsing for this moment since July. It was then that Obama told a rally in Colorado Springs, Colo., that he intended to create a volunteer "civilian national security force as powerful, as strong and as well-funded" as the military. For months, rhetoric on the far right concerning Obama's service agenda has ranged from mildly panicked to paranoid delusional.
The patriots at Resistnet.com warn that brown shirts lurk under every red windbreaker worn by AmeriCorps volunteers, whose ranks the Service Act will swell by 175,000. Judi McLoud of Newsmax speaks of "forced labor" and evokes the sign that greeted arrivals at Auschwitz.
Glenn Beck and Michelle Malkin agree that the bill is proof we are becoming "slaves" to the federal government. In this the duo echo the Citizen's dubbing of the Service Act as the "National Enslavement Bill." The same Citizen editorial estimates that the Service Act's goal of seven million volunteers roughly equates to the number of East Germans who collaborated with the Stasi.
Not wanting to regurgitate Third Reich and Eastern Bloc analogies, popular conservative blogger C.J. Graham has taken the globo-government tack and connected the legislation to the United Nations' volunteer development program. She wonders, "Will American kids trade baseball caps for mandatory white helmets?"
Michelle Bachmann arrived a little late to the competition, but surprised judges when she executed a flawless triple-backflip allusion to Communist Vietnam, telling a Minnesota radio station last week that the Act would establish " re-education camps for young people" in which they would "get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then go to work in some of these politically correct forums."
It should surprise no one that the right's convulsive fits have been based on misreadings and distortions of the actual bill. While it's true the AmeriCorps Web site has an unfortunate red, black and white color scheme reminiscent of the Nazi flag, the Service Act's fascist overtones stop there.
Most right-wing bleating focuses on early drafts of the House version, H.R. 1388, which included a section instructing Congress to investigate the feasibility of a mandatory national-service requirement. But the clause died in the Senate. The final bill sent to the president merely expands existing programs (some of which were founded under Presidents Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush), such as AmeriCorps, SeniorCorps and Learn and Serve America. The Act also increases funding for service-earned college scholarships and programs for youth with disabilities and foster children.