Friday, September 12, 2008

September 11th Presidential Forum on Service

They are both nice men. It seems like an obvious observation, but it was the main thing I took away from the Presidential Forum on Service at the Service Nation Summit last night. Of course you have to have an ego to run for President, but I didn't feel like that was either of the candidates' core motivations, which is refreshing. It's sad though, that they both could only take the gloves off because it was September 11th, like going to church once a year at Christmas.

Both have strong histories of service: McCain in the military and Obama as a community organizer in Chicago. You can read about each of their plans for service in TIME Magazine's September 22nd second annual national service special issue.

In their discussions with Richard Stengel, Manager Editor, Time Magazine, and Judy Woodruff, Senior Correspondent and 2008 Political Editor of The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the main difference they danced around was how large government's role should be in providing service opportunities. Both spoke of American's hunger to be of service.

When asked how he would have done things differently after September 11th, McCain said that the government needed to,
"take advantage of the unity in the United States of America. We weren't Republicans on September 11th. We weren't Democrats. We were Americans. And I think that if we had asked for a concrete plan of action, both on the part of federal, state, and local governments, as well as by the Congress of the United States, as well as, frankly, talking directly to the American people [about] the need for us all to serve this nation.

But, you know, I gotta tell you something, Rick. When I travel around this country, that spirit is still there in America."
When asked, "What does 9/11 mean to you?" Obama said it is not only a reminder of, "the terrible potential for evil in the world," but it also of,
"what America does at the toughest times, which is to come together. Now, when I think of 9/11, I think of that spirit after the tragedy had occurred, how the outpouring of patriotism, emotion, volunteerism, the desire for service was in the minds of everyone.

And that was also a moment when the petty bickering and partisanship that comes to characterize our public life was set aside. And so the question was how do we recreate that spirit not just during times of tragedy, not just during 9/11, but how do we honor those who died, those who sacrificed, the fire fighters, the police officers, how do we honor them every day? How does it reflect itself in our government? How does it reflect itself in how we conduct our own civic life?

And, you know, my sense is that the country yearns for that. It's hungry for it. And what has been missing is a President and a White House that taps into that yearning in a serious way"
Service Nation, the hosts of the Presidential Forum on Service, and the Service Nation Summit, is trying to fulfill American's yearning for service by building a national service moment. They have designated September 27, 2008 as the Service Nation Day of Action. You can join or organize an event on that day on the Service Nation site.

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