The other day I wondered allowed if I’d missed some big John McCain national service speech. He’d been a big advocate of civilian service for years but I hadn’t heard anything about it, while Obama has been emphasizing it (more about Obama’s plan here).
Paul Glastris, the editor of the Washington Monthly, which published McCain’s plea for national service a few years back, provides the answer: McCain has indeed stopped talking about it:

Whatever the reason, the Arizona senator has spent this presidential season eloquently exhorting young people to “serve a cause higher than self” while studiously avoiding mention of any new measures to create more opportunities for such service. He took a weeklong “Service to America” speaking tour this spring, during which he said nothing about national service. His website is bereft of information on the subject. When reporters ask his campaign for anything in writing on the candidate’s national service agenda, they are sent copies of his 2001 Washington Monthly article.

Why would he shy away? One theory: while national service has become broadly popular, earning support from people like Mitt Romney and George W. Bush, it has remained unpopular with some of the most conservative anti-government parts of the party. If McCain’s challenge was juicing up the base, why talk about something would alienate the anti-government hardliners? It’s not like anyone other than a few national service junkies would notice that the stopped talking about it. So why take the risk?
One subtext of the Republican convention was that being a soldier is real service; being a community organizer (i.e. civilian service) was comical if not diabolical. If he backed a big community service proposal, perhaps that would have undermined that culture-war argument.
McCain will have a chance to rectify that today (Thursday). He and Obama will both appear at ServiceNation, a conference promoting community and national service. I’m sure he’ll talk positively about serving one’s nation. The key question is whether he’ll be specific, as he once was. I’ll report back.

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