Obama's Call to Service Faces Off Against the Economic Meltdown

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

On Monday afternoon I got a blast email from the Obama campaign. I immediately wondered what I was going to be asked to do: Donate to the Franken campaign? Make calls for Jim Martin down in Georgia?

It turned out to be neither. The campaign was letting me know that was directing visitors to volunteer for -- or donate to -- relief efforts to aid the victims of the Southern California fires.

"Throughout the campaign," said the email, "we saw time and again that when ordinary people act together, they can make a huge difference."

Obama's high-tech outreach has been instrumental in getting people across the country to donate millions of dollars and contribute millions of hours working on the campaign. Will it now become a hub for civic action?

Obama has always said that a call to service would be "a central cause" of his presidency. "We will ask Americans to serve," he said in a signature speech in July. "We will create new opportunities for Americans to serve. And we will direct that service to our most pressing challenges."

Clearly, those challenges have never been more pressing in our lifetime. As unemployment hits a 14 year high -- and heading higher -- layoffs mount, foreclosures stack up, and local governments throughout America gird themselves for a coming wave of service cutbacks and hospital closures, we have metaphorical fires burning all across the country. Fires that threaten to turn into a social conflagration.

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