Young America’s Foundation: First lady’s community service is agenda-driven

Hysterics have never been alien to American politics. Between the temperance movement, student protests in the 1960s, doubts of President Bush’s legitimacy, and the present paranoia, there have always been in our public discourse those who have abandoned the politics of prudence to engage in ideological shouting matches. We emphatically reject the accusation that GW’s Young America’s Foundation can be categorized as a group of “noisemakers” who serve as a catalyst for that hysteria.

Another false accusation that has been levied against YAF and other conservatives on campus is that we view politics as the fountainhead of one’s personal philosophy. Conservatism is a philosophy opposed to the notion that politics should dominate thinking. Attacking us as ideologues or partisans is nothing but an easy way to circumvent the issues we are trying to raise about the first lady’s promise to speak at Commencement should the GW community complete 100,000 hours of community service.

GW YAF never has been and never will be against community service. Our organization applauds the efforts of those who recently assembled the 7,500 care packages for soldiers during a day of service. The issue we raise is solely with the service-for-speech initiative, and the implications behind it. Community service is being conducted not for its own sake, but in support of a political agenda. What makes Mrs. Obama’s pledge different from President Reagan’s call to service, or the initiatives of Barbara and Laura Bush, is its direct connection to politics. “Organizing for America,” which emerged from the remnants of President Obama’s presidential campaign, has been used as a vehicle to call for community service in support of his health care initiatives. Now community service is linked to a goal of bringing yet another liberal Commencement speaker to campus. The Day of Service conducted by the University was a great program up until the focus shifted from benefiting the community to the choice of graduation speaker.

Our organization takes issue specifically with Senior Vice President for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak’s mandate that “all students will have their community service hours counted,” ignoring students’ freedom to choose and implying that GW is some sort of command economy where the administration can bend service to its will. This statement makes the argument against false volunteering for us – if the University is not using the fa?ade of service to achieve a political goal, why make such a demand? Why not give students the option to have their hours count towards Mrs. Obama’s goal? Students are still afforded freedom of choice and association, something that should not stop at the Commencement speaker.

We believe GW should reject Michelle Obama’s offer to speak. The false volunteerism of the pledge is endemic to the lack of intellectual diversity amongst recent Commencement speakers; one has to go back to 2006 when the Bushes spoke, and then into the 1990s to find speakers with conservative views. This lack of balance is something this organization persistently attempts to counter and why we have asked the University to consider other options when deciding on the choice of speaker.

YAF’s role on campus is not one supporting a particular party or exacerbating the bipolar and uncompromising divide in our politics. We are an organization of ideas, guided by a philosophy that seeks to minimize the role of politics in our daily lives. By associating community service with politics, doubt is cast upon the intentions of those serving and degrades volunteering to the point of whether or not a certain number of hours can be obtained. Community service cannot be quantitatively measured in hours, and should not be seen as a means to a high-profile graduation speaker. Service can only be measured by the enrichment of the lives of others, and the joy that is felt when we take time to make our society better. Disagreeing with the pledge is not a matter of politics to us, but it is an issue of preserving the meaning of service, an act that remains free of any consideration beyond that of how a community can be improved.

The writers, Travis Korson and Joe Naron, are the president and director of press for GW Young America’s Foundation, respectively.

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