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“The Missing Generation Of Obama-Inspired Politicians”: Congress Is The Last Place From Which Important Change Is Going To Come

The 2008 Obama presidential campaign, you’ll no doubt remember, was a marvel of social engagement, particularly among young people. They got involved in politics, they saw the potential for change, they sent emails and posted to Facebook and knocked on doors. But as Jason Horowitz reports in The New York Times, not too many of them decided to run for office. I’ll solve that mystery in a moment, but here’s an excerpt:

But if Mr. Lesser, who is on leave from Harvard Law School to run for office, is the face of the promised Obama political generation, he is also one of its few participants. For all the talk about the movement that elected Mr. Obama, the more notable movement of Obama supporters has been away from politics. It appears that few of the young people who voted for him, and even fewer Obama campaign and administration operatives, have decided to run for office. Far more have joined the high-paid consultant ranks.

Unlike John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, who inspired virtual legislatures of politicians and became generational touchstones, Mr. Obama has so far had little such influence. That is all the more remarkable considering he came to office tapping into spirit of volunteerism and community service that pollsters say is widespread and intense among young people. Mr. Obama has come to represent that spirit, but he has failed, pollsters say, to transform it into meaningful engagement in the political process.

There are a bunch of empirical claims here that may be questionable. Are there actually fewer young people running for office six years after Barack Obama got elected than there were in 1966 or 1986? Perhaps, but I don’t know that anyone has determined that for sure. And as for more of Obama staffers going into consulting than running for office, that always happens. You could without question say the same thing about every president since political consulting became an industry. Running for office is something very few people ever do, and for people who are working in politics and want to keep working in politics, the move from staffer to consultant is a natural career progression without huge risks.

More importantly, running for office is just one tiny part of “meaningful engagement in the political process.” What other things have all those former Obama volunteers been doing? The answer may be that they’ve actually been doing quite a bit.

But if mounting a congressional campaign is the one thing they haven’t been doing, it would be hard to blame them (and they may be running for other offices, but national reporters haven’t noticed). The last five years haven’t exactly made being a member of Congress look like the kind of fulfilling endeavor for which you’d make extraordinary life sacrifices. In fact, these days Congress looks like the last place from which important change is going to come. So if you’re an idealistic young person and the prospect of spending the next few years voting against the 50th and 60th and 70th Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act doesn’t stir you to the depths of your soul, it’s hard to say that’s Barack Obama’s failure.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, April 14, 2014

April 15, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Program Conservatives Should Love”: One That Even Paul Ryan Should Be Able To Embrace

We are at a point at which we will soon have vicious ideological debates over motherhood and apple pie.

Don’t laugh. If we can agree on anything across our philosophical divides, surely we can support efforts to promote voluntary service by our fellow citizens and to strengthen our nation’s extraordinary network of civic and religious charities.

This shared set of commitments led to one of the few bipartisan initiatives of President Obama’s time in office. On April 21, it will be five years since the president signed the Serve America Act, the final product of one of Congress’s most creative odd couples. Again and again, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts found ways to legislate together. The law aimed at authorizing 250,000 service slots by 2017 was the unlikely duo’s capstone project before Kennedy’s death.

At a very modest cost to government — those who serve essentially get living expenses and some scholarship assistance later — AmeriCorps gives mostly young Americans a chance to spend a year helping communities and those in need while nurturing thousands of organizations across the country. Senior Corps provides Americans 55 or older a chance to serve, too.

AmeriCorps sent out its first volunteers 20 years ago this fall. Since then, more than 800,000 Americans have participated in the program. By giving life to this great venture in generosity, our government did something that taxpayers, regardless of party, can be proud of.

One politician who speaks often about the importance of civil society groups is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan rightly talks about the “vast middle ground between government and the individual,” and of empowering “community organizations to improve people’s lives.”

Yet Ryan’s new budget comes out against apple pie. It zeroes out AmeriCorps. Poof. Gone.

Rather than denouncing Ryan for this, I urge him instead to take a second look on the basis of his own principles and realize the opportunity he has. The best move for someone who loves the activities of the nonprofits as much as Ryan says he does is to try to trump the president.

Obama’s budget proposes $1.05 billion, a slight increase that would allow AmeriCorps, including Senior Corps, to expand to more than 100,000 positions . It’s good that Obama and Senate Democrats have worked to keep the program funded in the face of House Republican resistance. But even the number Obama proposes amounts to slightly more than half of the 200,000 spots for 2014 that Hatch and Kennedy envisioned in their original bill.

It’s not as if young people don’t want to serve. AmeriCorps had 580,000 applications for 80,000 openings; Teach for America had 55,000 applications for 6,000 slots . Alan Khazei, co-chair of the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, which promotes national service, points to the 16 percent unemployment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds. Service, he argues, is a gateway. It can lead to “employment opportunities and help young Americans develop important job skills for their future careers.”

If Ryan isn’t convinced yet, he should talk to Wendy Spencer, the chief executive of the Corporation for National and Community Service. He’d have a lot in common politically with Spencer, a Republican. She worked in the private sector, for a local Chamber of Commerce and a United Way, and held positions in former Florida governor Jeb Bush’s administration in Florida. She headed the state’s Commission on Volunteerism for the last three Republican governors.

Spencer has been inventive at a time of tough budgets. At the end of March, she announced a partnership with Citi Foundation and the Points of Light Institute involving $10 million in private financing to engage 25,000 low-income young Americans to lead volunteer service projects even as they get mentoring and training from Citi employees.

Encouraged by Obama, federal agencies are using AmeriCorps volunteers in new ways. The Federal Emergency Management Agency Corps, for example, can deploy 1,600 volunteers in disaster relief emergencies while the School Turnaround corps has used hundreds of volunteers in repairing troubled schools.

Spencer views the federal service programs as a “trifecta.” The organizations receiving AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members see their capacity enhanced as full-time volunteers leverage the work of thousands more. And, of course, the participants themselves benefit, as do the people they serve.

If you wish, Mr. Ryan, you can let the president get all the credit for saving this worthy endeavor and for fostering innovation. Or you can go him one better by expanding it. You could use AmeriCorps as a model for a practical, locally oriented, conservative approach to government. Because that’s exactly what it is.

 

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 13, 2014

April 14, 2014 Posted by | AmeriCorps, Ryan Budget Plan, Serve America Act | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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