July 20, 2015

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Fact and Fiction of the Franklin Project--Part 1

You know how to tell when a political camp has nothing on an opponent?

It begins making stuff up.

That “making stuff up” has become the chief form of amusement among those who oppose Eric Greitens for Governor.

The current fiction they advance has to do with an organization called The Franklin Project. The fiction advanced by a few Facebook warriors goes something like this: “The Franklin Project wants mandatory national service.”

To the best of my research, the assertion is simply false. The Franklin Project does not promote mandatory service.

Up to now, we can excuse some people. The Franklin Project is not, after all, a household name. We can assume that many simply repeat what they hear others say. (We are all susceptible to believing hearsay that fits our worldview. Our minds, being lazy, tell us that the hearsay seems so plausible there’s no point wasting time looking it up.)

Also, we can blame General Stanley McChrystal for some of the confusion. McChrystal helped launch the Franklin Project. When asked in an interview if we should bring back the draft, McChrystal answered with an inelegant “yes.” He went on to explain the draft he envisions is not a military draft but a national service draft.

McChrystal has since come off the draft idea, and the Franklin Project has never promoted it.

Instead, the Franklin Project advances national service almost precisely the way William F. Buckley proposed in his 1990 book Gratitude.

First, here’s the Franklin Project’s vision:

The Franklin Project envisions a future in which a year of full-time national service—a service year—is a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, and a civic rite of passage for every young American.

Here’s Buckley’s:

Materialistic democracy beckons every man to make himself a king; republican citizenry incites every man to be a knight. National service, like gravity, is something we could accustom ourselves to, and grow to love.

Buckley wrote an essay called Gratitude which he turned into a short book.  Among Buckley’s gems:

It is entirely possible to live out an entire life without experiencing the civic protections that can become so contingently vital to us at vital moments. Even if we never need the help of the courts, or of the policeman, or of the Bill of Rights, that they are there for us in the event of need distinguishes our society from most others. To alert us to their presence, however dormant in our own lives, tends to ensure their survival. And tends also to encourage a citizenry alert to the privileges the individual might one day need or enjoy. This enjoyment, this answering of needs, can make us proud of our country—and put us in debt.

The debt to which Buckley refers is not monetary, but moral. He postulates that we all owe something in return for the freedoms and prosperity and safeguards we enjoy. To whom do we owe this debt?

The dead being beyond our reach, our debt can only be expressed to one another; but our gratitude is also a form of obeisance—yes, to the dead.

Buckley’s most detailed description of the program he envisioned:

The objective should be to enroll, by the turn of the century, more than 80 percent of Americans born in 1973 or later. . . . Yes, there needs to be a National Service Franchise Administration. Its primary function should be to gather information for use by the states and indeed by individuals seeking (for instance) a locality that sustains an NSFA program most congenial to their inclination. . . . But the NSFA, observing its mandate, should also recommend appropriate legislation to Congress, legislation having primarily to do with federal sanctions. No federal money would be used to finance national service; federal money would be made available only to absorb administrative costs run up by the [ NSFA ] . . . . A vital function of the Administration would be to establish how long a participant would need to work in order to qualify for his certificate of service. The states decide what are the accrediting activities and which should be given precedence. But only a single agency can reasonably decide what the total contribution, measured in time served, ought to be. The idea of one year’s service appeals.

Reasonable conservatives can disagree on whether Buckley’s idea for a national program was valid without inventing bogeymen. Since the Franklin Project stops short even of Buckley’s modest proposal, there’s no need to invent mandates that don’t exist.

To help inform, I plan, this week, a poor imitation of Buckley’s noble initiative. This week’s blogs will focus on national service.

I will attempt to outline the debate on the right, the dangers posed by the left, and the need for conservatives to involve themselves in the crafting of the national ethos rather than abandoning the debate and leaving it to the collectivists, as we have abandoned California.

Thanks. Have a great week.