Time Magazine’s editor, Rick Stengel, makes the case for a large-scale but voluntary national service program in an editorial that accompanies a whole cover issue on service and volunteering. It’s a useful contribution because:
It’s a concrete policy recommendation that would respond to a widespread feeling that our communities and democratic institutions have weakened dangerously. Stengel assembles rather specific ideas for federal service programs. Stengel wisely builds on our experience with existing projects. Domestic service goes back to the New Deal, but the most immediately relevant programs are part of AmeriCorps, which was founded in the Clinton years Stengel wisely recommends a voluntary program. He writes, “Americans don’t like to be told what they have to do; many have argued that requiring service drains the gift of its virtue. [The new programs] would be based on carrots, not sticks.” I would add another reason. It is crucial to offer high-quality programs, and we’ll need to build those incrementally. A universal requirement would doom many young people to poor programs, with counter-productive results. Service opportunities for people in their twenties would help them navigate an increasingly long and difficult transition to adulthood. Service has potential appeal to conservatives and liberals, and it’s a big enough idea that it could help to define a campaign or party.