8/16/2008

You Belong to Us

In late 2007, Richard Stengel wrote a cover story for Time magazine calling for a massive national service program to be imposed on American young people. If you’d like to read it, knock yourself out. Someone probably needs to smash it, but the avalanche of propaganda and nationalism you’ll find there was too demoralizing for me to attempt it. The very idea that helping someone in your neighborhood should be called “service to the nation” should be spooky and Orwellian enough, but for many people I guess it isn’t.

One thing I couldn’t get out of my head, even though it’s not by any means the weirdest aspect of the program, is Stengel’s proposal for a Cabinet-level Department of National Service. I think it was this piece of advice that struck me the most: “And don’t appoint a gray bureaucrat to this job; make it someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Mike Bloomberg, who would capture the imagination of the public.”

Translation: the American people, too stupid to engage in government-approved service projects without being prodded by their betters, need a crowd-pleasing Hollywood actor to rouse them to action. Bloomberg, possibly the dullest human being in public life, would be a better choice than Schwarzenegger from my point of view: the American people would barely be able to keep awake through one of his droning appeals.[...]

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