WASHINGTON – Advocates of national service for all Americans on Thursday said they want the Democratic nominee for president to embrace expanding national service as part of his or platform because it can help decrease political polarization in the U.S.
Democratic presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer have accepted the Serve America Together challenge to make national service a priority in their first 100 days in office and have proposed plans to expand national service.
“We want to elevate and make national service a key issue in the 2020 presidential campaign,” Service Year Alliance CEO Jesse Colvin said at a Brookings Institution event hosted by his group and Serve America Together.
Colvin also said that the two groups wanted to push for legislation to make undertaking national service an expectation for young people to perform. National service could take various forms, such as military service or working for AmeriCorps.
According to the Pew Research Center, political polarization has increased from the mid-1990s through 2017. Republicans and Democrats are more ideology divided and fewer Americans hold a mixture of conservative and liberal values. The advocates of expanded national service made the claim that more engagement with national service would make the nation more cohesive because national service participants would meet people outside their normal communities while undertaking projects that help people.
“It’s harder to call someone a name, to marginalize someone you know,” said Deval Patrick, former governor of Massachusetts. “I support national service because we don’t know each other.”
The panel members were reluctant to advocate for mandatory national service. John DiIulio, the first director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush, said, “I actually think mandatory service would be great, but the political support for it isn’t there.”
The advocates for national service instead argued that national service programs and opportunities should be expanded. They said that people want to participate in these programs, but there are not enough spots and funding at existing programs to accommodate the people who want to volunteer.
However, Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said in a telephone interview that expanding national service programs would be a poor use of money and time.
Bandow was doubtful that the government would find an effective way to use millions of people and that many would end up doing jobs like what they would have been doing anyway or end up doing meaningless work. For example, Bandow said, educational service programs are not that different from teaching. Bandow called national service, “a solution in search of a problem.”