The big news at the “Service Nation” joint appearance of John McCain and Barack Obama was not what they disagreed on but what they agreed on: both supported colossal increases in the size of full-time civilian national service opportunities.
McCain noted that he’s proposed legislation with Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, to increase AmeriCorps, the community service program, from 75,000 up to 250,000 a year. Obama has proposed a similar increase. So whichever candidate wins, AmeriCorps may more than triple in size. What more both men yesterday endorsed a new bill about to be introduced jointly by Sen. Ted kennedy and Orrin Hatch to create more service opportunities.
The main differences between Obama and McCain were the level of detail. Obama has comprehensive plan and talked about several elements, such as a Veterans Service Corps to help veterans re-assimilate and an Energy Corp to help fuel energy independence. McCain was vague but left no doubt that, unlike some other conservatives, he supports a major government role in creating civilian service opportunities. “AmeriCorps has been one of the astonishing successes,” he said.
There were other interesting moments which I’ll write about a bit later but for now I’m just glowing in this extraordinary turn of events. When I worked at the corporation for national service in 2005, AmeriCorps was slated for extinction. Now, both parties want it grow geometrically.
Other points of interest:
–If that wasn’t enough of a sign of how far the national service movement has come… when I was involved about ten years ago the best celebrity we could turn out for such events was a B-lister like Richard Dreyfus. Tonight’s event drew Leonardo Dicaprio, Toby Maguire and Glenn Close. Yowza.
–Unlike a the Republican convention, at this McCain explicitly bragged about his role in creating the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law (which is unpopular with most conservatives)
–Both chided Bush for not calling the nation to service after 9/11 and both chided Columbia university for not allowing ROTC on campus (because of the don’t ask don’t tell policy)
–McCain praised Obama’s work as a community organizer instead of mocking it. Obama said he was “surprised” by the Republican attacks on that but he did not aggressively counterpunch on that point. The spirit of the evening was all about uniting and inspiring America on the anniversary of 9/11 so both were on good behavior.
The event, “Service Nation” was organized by the founders of City Yerar, Alan Khazei and Michael Brown.