Monday, July 9, 2012

Making The Case For National Service

The president is expected to call for a one year extension of the Bush tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 per year.  The proposal would freeze tax rates at current levels for the middle class while raising taxes on the richest Americans.  The president’s rationale is that raising taxes on a struggling middle class during difficult economic times would only serve to further weaken a failing economy while the wealthiest Americans, who have benefited the most from a free society, should pay a little more.
The president’s is well aware that his proposal has no chance of passing through the Republican controlled House or avoiding a Republican filibuster in the Senate.  His offering is merely a political ploy to force Republicans to go on record voting against tax cuts for the middle class while extending tax cuts for the wealthy.  Were he serious, the president would have proposed comprehensive tax reform as a  stimulus while attaching entitlement reform as a long term debt/deficit solution.  But that is material for another blog.
The president’s proposal is just another example of what we see as a sickness that is permeating our society…a divisiveness that sets one American against another…in this case pitting the halves against the have not’s.  We have become a society so focused on “I” that the “we” that once made America great has all but disappeared.  And the diversity that once made us the envy of the world is the same diversity that we now try to expunge.
It seems that we have become a society of individuals who are all looking for the VIP line.  So important are “I”, “Me” and “my pursuit of happiness” that nothing else seems to matter.  So immersed are we in our own little self absorbed bubble that we have little knowledge of what is going on in the rest of the world.  We have no sense of history…no sense of what generations before us sacrificed so that we could have what we have.   We have taken the simply fortuitous fact that we left the birth canal within US borders and turned it into a sense of entitlement that is palpable.  “I am an American…therefore I am special.”  We have lost the essence of what being “American” really means.
Individualism, civil rights, competition and achieving success are all integral parts of what make this country great.  But when those ideals are achieved at the expense of others we become a society without heart and without compassion.
Look at the ever widening gap between the top 1% and the rest of our society.  Should we vilify and demonize those who have been successful.  No!  But once upon a time it was possible for everyone in our society to achieve the success of the 1%.  Study upon study show that is no longer the case.  Today if you are born to wealth you are likely to remain wealthy.  And if you are born in poverty you are likely to remain poor.  The opportunities for upward mobility in the US lag way behind most industrialized countries.  That is because the success of the haves is often at the expense of the have not’s.
Health care is another example.  Whether you love Obamacare or hate it you have to give the President credit for trying to make affordable health care available to all Americans.  His opponents say that they will repeal the bill at the first opportunity.  But they have no solution for the almost 50 million Americans who cannot afford insurance.  And to be perfectly blunt about it…they don’t care.  “I have mine…go get your own.”  That attitude only serves to widen an already burgeoning societal gap.
And look at our politics.  So caught up are we in out ideological bubble that the idea that the other party or even another country might have a better solution to our problems is unthinkable.  Compromise is a dirty word. Elected officials who are seen reaching across the aisle to find solutions are ticketed for replacement come election time.  Votes are scored and officials who dare to cross party lines won’t be voting for very long.
We have become a divide country, fueled by individualism and a rigid ideological view of the world that threatens the very bond that once made us great.
So how do we fix it? 
We fix it by implementing a policy that we and many others far more insightful have written about before.
We fix it by implementing a policy of national service.
We believe that every citizen upon graduating high school or reaching the age of 18 should be required to spend two years giving back to the country.  It could be enlisting in the military, serving in the Peace Corp or working as a teacher’s aide in an inner city school.  There are many opportunities that could satisfy this two year requirement.  After giving two years to the country the individual could go to college, pick up a trade or enter into a vocation having the benefit of two years of practical experience in the real world.  These two years would help our youth to understand what being a part of this country is all about.  The individual and the country would be all the better for the experience.
Would it work?  It does in Israel. 
Israeli youth are required to enter into the military upon graduating high school.  Boys enlist for three years; girls for two.  Upon completion of their service requirement they enter college as mature adults with a much better understanding of who they are and what they want to do with their lives.  In a survey of American CEOs, respondents said that Israeli college graduates are more focused, more mature and ultimately more capable of meeting the demands of the business world than their American counterparts.
And why wouldn’t they be.  While our kids are playing video games, partying and struggling with what they want to be when they grow up the Israeli kids are building hospitals and water treatment plants, negotiating with village elders, learning about responsibility and laws and teamwork.  The Israeli kids come through this experience with a sense of self and an appreciation and understanding of their country that our kids cannot fathom.  The Israeli kids are better for the experience and their country is too.
Now Israel’s requirement that their high school graduates enter the military stems from the fact that they are surrounded by enemies who would like to see their country wiped off the face of the earth.  Fortunately we do not face that reality; so we could find other non-military ways that our youth could serve their country and better themselves in the process.  In the end we would be building generations who understand that being an American is more than a birthright.  It is a responsibility that includes helping the least advantaged to achieve a better life.  Being an American means being compassionate and open minded as well as competitive and resourceful.  We believe that a policy of national service will help to sew those seeds and return our country to greatness and prosperity…for everyone.
So that is our challenge to this president or whoever is next to reside in the Oval Office.  Develop a policy of national service.  Develop a policy that will help all young Americans to get a true appreciation of what being American is all about.  Challenge the country to build future generations that rival the Greatest Generation in terms of sacrifice, courage and compassion…
…and secure your legacy in the process.             

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