The most worrisome of Barack Obama’s proposals is his goal of bringing most charities under the federal umbrella in part by inducing all middle and high school children to do 50 hours of community service every year.
By requiring almost all public middle schoolers, starting at the age of 10 or 11, to join his new cadres of community service workers and become part of his “civilian national security force,” Barack Obama shows himself to be out of touch with American traditions of individual volunteerism.
There is nothing wrong with a family allowing a child to volunteer at a young age: in the summer when I was 11, I spent several nights a week working for free at a concession stand in a little league baseball park. My parents were comfortable with this community service because at all times I was under the supervision of my mother’s best friend. Parents then and parents today would like to choose whether their 11-year old child takes on even a part time job, and they would like to choose the job and judge for themselves whether the working conditions are suitable.
With his myriad proposals for new "Corps" and his proposal for universal service for all school children, Obama is trying to bring the charitable activities of 50 to 100 million people –- about half of them children –- under state control. That our government is even capable of running a service program on a scale never before attempted is a matter of faith, not evidence.
Steven Malanga of City Journal has an article that deals more with Barack Obama’s past than his proposals for the future.
Community organizing’s roots stretch back to the 1930s and Chicago organizer Saul Alinsky, founder of the Industrial Areas Foundation and author of Rules for Radicals. But it wasn’t until President Lyndon Johnson’s ambitious plan to end poverty through massive federal spending that the Alinsky model—grassroots organizing, neighborhood by neighborhood—really took off. Starting in the mid-1960s, the federal government directed billions of dollars to neighborhood groups, convinced that they knew better than Washington what their communities needed. The federal funds, eventually supplemented by state and local tax dollars, helped create a universe of government-funded community groups running everything from job-training programs to voter-registration drives—far beyond anything Alinsky could have imagined. Some 3,000 local social-services groups were soon receiving government funding in New York City alone. Many were new, but the money also helped turn traditional charities that had operated on private donations into government contractors.
Those who led these social-services groups became advocates, unsurprisingly, for government-funded solutions to social problems. To defend and expand their turf, organizers began heading into the political arena, wielding the power they had accumulated in neighborhoods to build a base of supporters. In New York, operators of huge social-services groups like Pedro Espada in the Bronx and Albert Vann in Brooklyn won election to state and federal posts after heading up large, powerful nonprofits. By the late 1980s, nearly 20 percent of New York City Council members were products of the government-funded nonprofit sector, and they were among the most strident advocates for higher taxes and more government spending. In other cities, too, from Chicago to Cleveland to Los Angeles, the road to electoral success increasingly ran through the government-funded social-services sector. Spending directed to these groups boomed through both Republican and Democratic administrations. “The non-profit service sector has never been richer, more powerful,”former welfare recipient Theresa Funiciello wrote in her 1993 book Tyranny of Kindness. “Except to the poor, poverty is a mega-business.”
Obama began his organizing life in the mid-1980s in a community group whose progress mirrored that of the rest of the industry: the Developing Communities Project, formed on Chicago’s South Side as a “faith-based grassroots organization organizing and advocating for social change.” Though founded with resources from a coalition of churches, over time the DCP evolved, like many left-leaning religious organizations, into a government contractor essentially subsisting on tax money—with nearly 80 percent of its revenues deriving from public contracts and grants.
As a young college graduate immersed in the world of tax-bankrolled activism, Obama adopted the big-government ethos that prevailed among neighborhood organizers who viewed attempts to reform poverty programs as attacks on the poor. Speaking to an alternative weekly on the eve of his 1995 run for state senate, Obama said . . . that “these are mean, cruel times . . . .” He derided the “old individualistic bootstrap myth” of American achievement that conservatives were touting. Self-help strategies “have become thinly veiled excuses for cutting back on social programs, which are anathema to a conservative agenda,” he wrote in a chapter that he contributed to a 1990 book, After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois. (He also depicted leftist community organizing as a harder task than similar efforts by the Christian Right, telling a reporter in 1995 that “it’s always easier to organize around intolerance, narrow-mindedness and false nostalgia.”)