Sunday, September 28, 2014

Real Patriotism

Real patriotism, it seems to me, celebrates what is best about one's country, and commits to making it even better. This is the essence of AmeriCorps, the national-service organization that recently celebrated 20 years of good work. Tens of thousands of recent high-school and college graduates -- including quite a few of my former students -- have served their country in parks, streams, schools, libraries, gymnasiums, health centers from sea to shining sea.

As reported in the Boston Globe, four of the presidents in this file photo -- George H.W. Bush, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton -- participated in 20th anniversary celebrations of AmeriCorps. (The program began after President Carter had left office.)

At the White House, at Kennebunkport, and at a total of 95 celebrations across the country, Americans across the political spectrum  lauded this cost-effective program that builds skills while improving the communities in which we live.

Tufts University Dean Alan Solomont explains that AmeriCorps is really just the latest chapter in a century-long commitment to public service in the United States. Most people understand its importance -- which is the domestic counterpart to the international service of soldiers and diplomats. He explains, however, that the dysfunctional United States Congress has been unwilling to fund it to the level that these presidents have requested.

The reasons for this lack of patriotism are several. First is the embrace of many members of Congress of the twin fetishes of privatization and tax cuts. Although spending on Americorps is trivial in comparison to weapons systems or bank bailouts, AmeriCorps volunteers cannot rent or purchase Congress Critters, so they are an easy target for cost-cutting. Second, although the Constitution requires voters to choose representatives, the manipulation of district boundaries and voting rules allows the process to be reversed, and a significant number of representatives are able to choose voters who support the ideologies of their patrons on K Street.

The result is a lamentable situation in which none of us -- poor or wealthy -- is living in a country that is as good as it could be. As the study Spirit Level found, we are all better off if we are all better off.

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