Abandoning Government’s Civil Society Catalyst

It says a lot about the habitual radicalism of Paul Ryan budgeting that I didn’t even realize–and wasn’t at all surprised to learn–Ryan proposed killing off the AmeriCorps national service program. E.J. Dionne noticed, however, and makes the right points about the stark contradiction between Ryan’s pseudo-subsidiarist rhetoric about “civil society” and “intermediary institutions” and his lack of interest in the federal government’s most pointed and successful initiative to serve as a catalyst for the “small platoons” of volunteers and non-profit organization doing good works across the country.

AmeriCorps sent out its first volunteers 20 years ago this fall. Since then, more than 800,000 Americans have participated in the program. By giving life to this great venture in generosity, our government did something that taxpayers, regardless of party, can be proud of.

AmeriCorps originally benefitted from strong bipartisan support, but soon became a partisan target for House Republicans because it was regarded as a “signature” initiative of the despised Bill Clinton. Towards the end of the Bush 43 administration, it regained its bipartisan cachet. And now, even though Republicans tout the idea of a smaller, more strategic role for government in stimulating civil society like never before, it’s back in the GOP doghouse.

Assuming Americorps survives the Obama administration, maybe it will once again enjoy its logical level of support among Republicans. To be safe, though, maybe Hillary Clinton should let it be known she never much liked it at all.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.