The scourge of national service

THE SCOURGE OF NATIONAL SERVICE…. About a week ago, the Senate easily approved legislation to expand national community service programs. The House had already easily passed a similar measure, and the president is anxious to sign it into law. As part of the effort, the number of positions available in AmeriCorps will increase from 75,000 to 250,000.

The right’s reaction has been fascinating. One right-wing blogger compared community service programs to “Hitler youth.” Malkin called funding for the programs a “left-wing slush fund.”

But, as usual, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) is in a league of her own. This was Bachmann’s response over the weekend to the Serve America Act:

“It’s under the guise of, quote, ‘volunteerism.’ But it’s not volunteers at all. It’s paying people to do work on behalf of government. […]

“I believe that there is a very strong chance that we will see that young people will be put into mandatory service. And the real concerns is that there are provisions for what I would call re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward and then they have to go to work in some of these politically correct forums.”

Now, I feel kind of awkward fact-checking obvious madness, but I suppose it’s worth noting two quick points. First, there’s nothing in the legislation requiring public service. It’s about expanding service opportunities for those who choose to pursue them.

Second, support for the expanded community service programs was bipartisan. The bill passed the Senate with 79 votes, and passed the House with 321 275 votes. Bachmann apparently believes some of her own conservative Republican colleagues backed an initiative to mandate public service and force young people into re-education camps that only exist in her twisted imagination.

Stepping back, though, this reminds me of a great post Kevin Drum had over the weekend in which he pondered why, exactly, so many on the far-right are feeling besieged and panicky.

“Who, exactly, is their enemy these days?” Kevin asked. “I’m not sure they know themselves. But maybe that makes it worse…. Like a horror movie where you’re surrounded on all sides by something you can never quite make out, I guess it seems to them like there’s something horrible going on, but it’s something so insidious that they’re only allowed to catch occasional foggy glimpses of it.”

Right. And to take this one step further, I think this also helps explain why truly batty conservatives like Bachmann and Glenn Beck fabricate dire threats that don’t exist in our reality. They’re struggling to deal with legitimate progressive policy ideas, so they’re stuck manufacturing make-believe policy ideas that suit their worldview. Obama wants to adopt a global currency! He wants young people in government-sponsored re-education camps! He wants to take medical decisions away from doctors and give them to bureaucrats! He’s going to impose a tax on every time we flip a light switch!

These ideas are clearly delusional, but for those who need to see a political apocalypse, they apparently don’t have a choice. Debating real ideas on the merits is proving too difficult, so they’re creating their own reality and hoping their supporters play along.