We said something relatively nice yesterday about the president-elect’s incoming chief of staff, but there’s no way to sugar-coat one of the less appealing items on the Illinois congressman’s record: his vocal advocacy of mandatory national service. From his 2006 book The Plan: Big Ideas for America, co-authored with Bruce Reed, currently the #1 selling book in several political categories at Amazon and #91 overall:
It’s time for a real Patriot Act that brings out the patriot in all of us. We propose universal civilian service for every young American. Under this plan, All Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five will be asked to serve their country by going through three months of basic training, civil defense preparation and community service.
(J.D. Tuccille, “Obama’s chief of staff choice favors compulsory universal service”, Examiner, Nov. 6).
Some think we’re being alarmist in wanting to know more about the episode late last week (blogged here, here, and here) in which the Obama transition site posted (and soon thereafter silently retracted by alteration) a policy statement indicating that its plan would require participation in community service. After all, pointed out one correspondent, the issue had come up repeatedly before the election, and the Obama campaign had given assurances then its plan wasn’t going to be compulsory. What were the odds it would introduce a major policy change so quickly and stealthily after winning? Unfortunately, that doesn’t put an end to the issue. As everyone knows, all winning candidates pay concessionary lip service during campaigns to views that their key people may not share in private (cf. Goolsbee and NAFTA). Those discrepancies often foreshadow later deviations of policy from the line taken during the campaign. We may hope last week’s web posting reflected nothing more than a staff mix-up, quickly corrected, as opposed to some staffer’s relaying in all innocence a view of the issue formed by listening to internal campaign discussions. But wouldn’t it be better if the transition itself went public with such a reassurance?