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Fact and Fiction of the Franklin Project–Part 1
Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.

  • Stacy Shore

    Bill, you say this: ” 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.”

    You say: ” 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.”

    I say: There is no “confusion”. McChrystal answered in his op~ed to the Wall Street Journal about his feelings on mandatory community service this way: ““Universal national service should become a new American rite of passage,” he says. “At age 18, every young man and woman would receive information on various options for national service…Instead of making national service legally mandatory, corporations and universities, among other institutions, could be enlisted to make national service socially obligatory. Schools can adjust their acceptance policies and employers their hiring practices to benefit those who have served—and effectively penalize those who do not.”

    Whether you like to call his view “mandatory” or not, I do. If we get “nudged” into community service rather than be blacklisted from an education, or applying for a job then that pretty much looks mandatory to me. There is no confusion. He clearly says his goal would be to “penalize” those who did not participate through the PPPs (Public Private Partnerships). PENALIZE. His words, not mine.

    There are some of us not afraid to do the research, Bill. We are not “lazy” or vulnerable to hearsay. We DO look things up, and find after much research there is substantial reason for concern when it comes to Eric Greitens. Thus, It is also remiss not to address that the Franklin Project is a “project” of the Aspen Institute which if largely funded by George Soros and other pretty radical progressive~types. It is unlikely their concept of “community service” would match those of most truly conservative Tea Party Republican~types, wouldn’t you say? People need to see the affiliations and draw their own conclusions. The whole story is important when trying to steer the “lazy” voters who cast their vote with a zombie~like stroll into the booth while wearing their “tin foil hats” because they are afraid of the “bogey man”. Seriously? Your word choices make me laugh. People have an appetite for truth, not carefully managed damage control when the truth is a hard pill to swallow. We have had a belly full of that and we know the difference.

    • Stacy,

      Thank you for comment. I assume you read my entire series, but for readers who didn’t, I’ll summarize:

      1. When it comes to the incentives (or stigma) for service, McChrystal’s vision and The Franklin Project’s vision are basically identical to William F. Buckley’s. And Buckley was hardly hard leftist.
      2. I spent a fair amount of time reviewing the debate between Buckley and Milton Friedman in which I concluded “Buckley’s prescription may not be the best. We probably don’t need a big new government program to run this thing. And Stanley McChrystal doesn’t think we need one.”
      3. My critique of The Franklin Project‘s specific goals was pretty harsh.
      4. I pointed out that conservatives should get involved in national service because the historical shifts Buckley foresaw in 1974 and 1990 are taking place now. If we don’t join the conversation, we will live with what others decide.
      5. I produced a plan for a Missouri service program, at least in outline, that reduces federal control over Missouri money and policies.

      So your hostility seems to boil down to what “mandatory” means. You and I clearly disagree on the meaning of that word, yet even Milton Friedman admitted that Buckley’s program was voluntary despite the inducements. (Buckley’s inducements included denial of federal loans and even driver’s licenses.) The fact that you personally don’t like the consequences of not volunteering doesn’t make the thing mandatory. No one goes to jail for failing to serve, as it should be. Nor do they pay a fine. They do pay a price in social esteem, however–the same price paid by anyone who avoided service in World War II.

      On the meaning of the word “mandatory,” we’ll continue to disagree. If the government is going to run a student loan program, though, I have no problems with the government setting eligibility criteria. I believe having done something larger than oneself is a fine criterion for student loans.

      I think it’s instructive that in 1974 the opposition to Buckley’s service plan came from the left. Why? Because of the reason Buckley wanted to require service in exchange for student loans and grants. His reason: the student must earn the privilege of going to college on the taxpayers’ dime, borrowed or otherwise. Earning one’s way was a wholly un-liberal notion in the waning days of the Nixon administration.

      The idea of, yes, universal service centers on the experienced understanding that service improves the character and instills an appreciation for the society.

      Buckley was afraid, as am I, that people have lost sight of the wonderfulness that is America. Don’t you worry about that same thing? Do you think kids are learning the wonders of the American experience in our public schools? Hardly. In fact, I hear people complain all the time that too many young people take too much for granted. Do they not?

      Damage control? Give me a break. I don’t write 10,000 words for damage control. I find it much easier to apologize and move on, and a cursory search for the word “sorry” on my blog will back me up on that. This series about an opportunity to seize an initiative conservatives should have seized in 1990.

      No, I don’t advocate for mandatory service. But I do believe society should expect something of people before they fully consume the privileges of being an American. I believe we ask far too little of most of our people and demand far too much of a tiny few. I believe we give far too much to people who never appreciate how lucky they are just to set foot in this country. And I, for one, am tired of waiting for some education miracle or some electoral miracle to suddenly infuse every American under the age of 30 with Frank Capraesque understanding of the wonders of America. IT AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN.

      Yes, it’s a damn shame The Aspen Institute jumped on this idea before we did. It’s a damn shame so many conservatives reflexively reject ideas simply because of where the ideas find welcome. I read somewhere that someone lamented the fact that Hitler despised Picasso, because it meant he would have to pretend Picasso was to his liking. Rejecting an idea simply because it also occurred to George Soros or Stanley McChrystal shows a lack of critical thinking. They probably support voting, too; should we oppose it?

      Finally, I think you owe my readers some answers. I posed these questions in Part 2, and I repeat them here. I hope you will answer them this time.
      a. Would you vote for William F. Buckley knowing that he supported a program of service even more ambitious than The Franklin Projects?
      b. Would you vote for Ronald Reagan knowing that he created the California Ecology Corps?
      If advocating for a service ethic is disqualifying, you must answer “no” to both questions.

  • Bill,
    I am happy to see that you want to provide facts about candidates. I didn’t now about “the Franklin Project” so I thank you for adding that to the long list of already smelly things Greitens is involved in. The University of Missouri put out an article in 2009 “Obama signs Serve America Act, Energizes National Service Movement”. Greitens is quoted through the entire article, specifically praising the addition of 175,000 additional AmeriCorps positions. Just to be clear, conservatives are not a fan of AmeriCorps, that is Democrat territory.

    In 2012, article entitled “Cass County Democrat Missourian Rosenfelt attends Missouri Boys State”. This lists the speakers as James Carville, Kansas City Mayor Sly James, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, former Missouri Governor Bob Holden, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, Missouri Attorney Chris Koster, Federal Judge Duane Benton, and CEO of the Mission Continues Eric Greitens. Couple this with his 2009 appearance as a speaker for the West County Democrats. The list for West County Democrats goes all the way back to 2001 with EVERY speaker being a democrat.

    How about part of AmeriCorps, “United We Serve” the New American Project? The initiative task force that seeks to encourage volunteerism among all Americans in an effort to develop and begin implementing a federal immigration integration stategy. The First Lady launches her campaign with the Entertainment Industry Foundation Participation Campaign, Mayor Bloomberg, National Football League Players Association to promote service work and help kids get an extra hour of play. I now would like to hear how Obama’s indoctrination of our children’s physical activity will also get a spin job.

    David Wilkinson is the Director of the White Hourse Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation and “Works through smarter use of federal resources and public-private partnerships”.

    I grow ever so tired of professed conservatives that justify putting a so called republican in office that clearly shares democrat views. Bill, I would ask you this….if this were Ann Wagner would you give all this a free pass? No way. I will not give Ann Wagner a pass nor will I give Eric Greitens a pass. Give the people the information without spin and let them decide for themselves.

    • Lisa,

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment and questions. I will address specifics of the Franklin Project’s plan in Part 3, so I won’t address that directly here.

      I will say this: I believe that Eric Greitens offers us a break from mere politicians. I am willing to worker harder, I admit, to inform his discretion precisely because of his potential to lead in government as brilliantly as he’s led in other walks of life.

      I am also willing to work hard to inform his discretion because that discretion is just recently opened to the political philosophy I’ve been crafting for a lifetime. Ronald Reagan supported every aspect of Roosevelt’s New Deal, but recognizing his potential, wise men and women worked hard to advise his discretion. And he became the Ronald Reagan we *still* miss.

      True, my patience is short with Ann Wagner because she has no excuse to err as wildly as she does. She is a cradle conservative, not a recent convert. And her errors seem less about erring on the side of building a better society and more on the side of building a stronger donor base.

      I do not apologize for uneven treatment of the two. I believe Ann Wagner represents the established GOP that helped us get precisely where are. And I believe Eric Greitens can represent a new GOP that sees government, not as a tool to promote his friends’ private interests, but as a vehicle for doing what must be done and cannot be done through any other means.

      Thanks, again, for your question. I don’t expect you to agree with me, but I do appreciate the chance to clarify where I stand.

      Please continue reading this series of posts.

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