In a touching ceremony at the White House today, President Obama invited President George H.W. Bush to attend the awarding of the 5,000th daily “Point of Light,” an commemoration of voluntarism named after 41’s famous “thousand points of light” term for the value of community service. An Iowa couple received the honor for their efforts to fight hunger here and abroad.
Aside from Poppy’s presence, the event carried an air of nostalgia because it reflected one point of bipartisanship that has largely faded. As a long-time advocate for national service dating back to the 1980s, I acutely recall that Bush 41’s “points of light” approach to the subject reflected a sort of bloodless approach to voluntarism, rejecting as he did any role for compensated service or post-service “G.I. Bill” benefits. Now it feels like the Age of Pericles when it comes to Republican interest in government-assisted community service. True, Poppy’s son was intermittently committed to the AmericCorps program that most conservatives hated for Bill Clinton’s signature role in creaating it, and there was a brief moment of satori in 2008 when both presidential candidates were fairly robust national service supporters. But about all you’ve heard since then from the Right are conspiracy theories about AmericCorps “indoctrinating” young people in Obamaism. House Republicans have regularly targeted AmericCorps for extinction, just as they did in the latter stages of the Clinton Administration.
This is a real shame. Anyone who genuinely dislikes “big government” and hails the civic sector, as so many conservatives like to do, should be highly supportive of national and community service efforts, or at least give them an occasional break. Maybe next decade.