I am a Republican, although in the eyes of some of my conservative brethren, I am not a very good one. My party has moved more and more to the right in the past few decades, pushing out moderates who once provided a calming influence to the fiery rhetoric of the right. The Young America’s Foundation, or YAF, has been helping to further shift the Republican Party. Never the ones to shy away from a fight, members of GW’s YAF have been known to court controversy with such events as Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week and, more recently, with their response to first lady Michelle Obama’s community service challenge.
This week, YAF called on the administration to decline Michelle Obama’s offer of speaking at Commencement on grounds she is a liberal and decried GW’s “politicizing community service by using it as a promotion” for Mrs. Obama. The group went so far as to ask the administration to allow students to “opt their hours out of the goal” if the University denies their initial request of finding a different speaker, and even asked that any community service hours YAF does be deducted from the total.
The idea of getting young people to give back to their community has been a common theme in modern American politics for the past few decades. Ronald Reagan, as a candidate in 1980, said, “Let us pledge to restore, in our time, the American spirit of voluntary service, of cooperation, of private and community initiative; a spirit that flows like a deep and mighty river through the history of our nation.” George H.W. Bush said the same in 1990, when he signed the National and Community Service Act. Even Barack Obama, as he marked 9/11 as a National Day of Service, followed in the footsteps of his predecessor, who also had made a note to push community service.
So why the big fuss? YAF agrees with St. Ronald, saying they “support the efforts of students who wish to go out into their communities and improve lives.” But when Michelle Obama simply says, “My challenge to the GW community is to make service a daily part of their lives,” YAF finds something wrong with that statement. This, though, does not differ in substance from Reagan or Bush’s statement. YAF says they “refuse to allow false volunteerism to serve a political agenda.” Their logic seems to be that community service is good, unless you’re asked to do it by a liberal figure, in which case, it’s all political.
It is patently obvious that the biggest problem YAF has with Mrs. Obama is that she is the wife of the president. They do not like her simply because they do not like her husband, nor do they like his politics. Consider President Obama’s recent speech to public school children, where he told them to stay in school and to work hard, while the right raised hell, calling it “indoctrination.” In the same vein, YAF’s opposition to Mrs. Obama is another example of the right trying to inject partisan politics into an inherently apolitical situation.
As a result, YAF has completely missed the point of Mrs. Obama’s challenge to GW students because of its unwavering and blind loyalty to an uncompromising ideology. This ideology is based on an “us versus them” mentality, where people can be reduced simply to “liberal” and “conservative.” Politics are seemingly the be-all and end-all to a person’s philosophy, serving only to further polarize an already partisan polity using the juvenile tactics of Joe Wilson, the hysterics of Glenn Beck and the deliberate obfuscations of Sarah Palin. Noisemaking, like this push against Michelle Obama, is a problem endemic to the Republican Party, and if its members continue using these irritating and irrational tactics, then they have only themselves to blame for the party’s further slide into irrelevance.
The writer, a senior majoring in biology, is the Student Association vice president of judicial and legislative affairs.
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