Politics/Law/Government

The New Constitution: Amendment IX – mandatory service and enfranchisement

The New Constitution

Amendment IX

All citizens shall, upon attainment of their 18th birthdays, enroll in a two-year program of public service, which may be fulfilled with either civic programs or the armed forces. Enfranchisement shall be earned upon completion of the public service commitment and a demonstration of a basic understanding of principles informing the political and policy issues facing the nation.

Rationale

If you talk to university professors, most will tell you that for every 18 year-old who arrives in their freshman classes prepared for higher education there are probably 20-30 who aren’t. What results is all too often a wasted year – an increasingly expensive wasted year in an age of spiraling college costs.

Students who take a year or two off, on the other hand, learn a good deal about self-sufficiency and the importance of taking control of the course of the lives. They’re more responsible, more productive and more successful when they finally do turn back to education.

Meanwhile, our society has jobs that need doing. Teaching in under-resourced schools, helping build and rebuild infrastructure, technology support for nonprofit organizations, community work with our poorest citizens, even military service – in all cases there are opportunities for young people to contribute and learn during a period of transition in their lives. Without exception, every alumnus of the AmeriCorps program that I have known has benefited tremendously from the experience as they shared their skills and their knowledge with our society’s less fortunate.

As noted in the prologue, our original Bill of Rights was based on the concept of negative liberty – a philosophy that defined freedom as a list of thou-shalt-nots. However, we have responsibilities as citizens, too, and a two-year investment in those most in need of having the playing field leveled a bit for them affords everyone the chance to work toward a brighter future.

Finally, America suffers each and every time we have an election because we entrust our shared destiny to people who are not familiar with the issues facing us. In too many cases this ignorance stems from basic sloth, and it seems evident that many among us do not cherish their right to vote. Perhaps this is because they did nothing to earn it.

No nation can reasonably entrust its future to its least educated and hope to survive, let alone thrive. We must demand better.

_____

Index: The New Constitution Series

42 replies »

  1. Sorry, first one I strongly disagree with. In fact, I’d leave a country that had this. Sure, create strong incentives for young citizens to participate in such programs if you like, but the State shouldn’t be in the business of “mandatory.” You’re imposing your values (however laudable or defensible they may be) on everyone here. Also, you’re penalizing those students who ARE “ready” for and desirous of continuing their education at the university level (or starting their own business, or travelling the world, or any other damn thing they want to do). You want their time and work for free–and that is unjust.

    • We make people do things they don’t want all the time. Like go to school. This is in many respects merely an extension of that sort of mandate – remember, we’re talking about people who are not enfranchised citizens.

      • Also, it’s my assumption that all of their expenses are covered and that they are paid. This includes the military, remember – so one would expect civil service to be compensated accordingly. In what way is this not better than today’s unpaid corporate internship?

        • Getting hit in the face with a stick may be better than getting hit in the face with a rock–doesn’t mean I’m going to argue in favor of it.

          The fact that you pay a slave doesn’t release him from slavery.

        • That you’re reacting so strongly against what is essentially an expansion to our existing educational paradigm is interesting. I’m going to assume that you’re against the draft in all cases? But, are you suggesting that we should not currently require children to attend school?

          Would you be happier if this were amended so that the program was voluntary (although the franchise would still be dependent on it)?

        • >>Would you be happier if this were amended so that the program was voluntary

          I’ve already said that I would. Provide financial and/or social incentives, market the hell out of it…that’s great. Just don’t *compel* adults to do what you think they should do.

        • And, again, the legal right to vote does not determine the age of adulthood (as you underscore with the ease with which you would shift it about). Any law which seeks to infantilize people over 18 (a rather arbitrary demarcation, but probably the best that we can come up with) is one I will always oppose, as neither history nor science support the idea (and yes, that includes existing laws).

          This liberal impulse toward social engineering is why I remain so adamant about the huge divide between liberal and progressive philosophies. If you believe in your ideas, then promote them, *people* to take advantage of them. If you feel you have to impose them on an unwilling group of people, it’s time to take a second look at what you’re selling (and to question what gives you the right to dictate to them in the first place). Or, you know, take the traditional route and decide that everyone is just to dumb to see what a great idea it is and that since you clearly know better than all of them, you will force them to obey.

        • And, again, the legal right to vote does not determine the age of adulthood (as you underscore with the ease with which you would shift it about). Any law which seeks to infantilize people over 18 (a rather arbitrary demarcation, but probably the best that we can come up with) is one I will always oppose, as neither history nor science support the idea (and yes, that includes existing laws).

          You’re slipping into rhetoric here with terms like “infantilize.” It’s not helping.

          To the point, though. Since the issue that’s bothering you has to do with compelling adults, and since you reject the link between enfranchisement and adulthood, tell me – when does someone become an adult?

          This liberal impulse toward social engineering is why I remain so adamant about the huge divide between liberal and progressive philosophies. If you believe in your ideas, then promote them, *people* to take advantage of them. If you feel you have to impose them on an unwilling group of people, it’s time to take a second look at what you’re selling (and to question what gives you the right to dictate to them in the first place). Or, you know, take the traditional route and decide that everyone is just to dumb to see what a great idea it is and that since you clearly know better than all of them, you will force them to obey.

          Again, you’re working very hard off of some unstated (and unexamined) ideological assumptions. And your speaking as though ideological constructs are natural, demonstrated facts. This is not true. I’m not going to attempt to justify a proposal in terms of the very ideological construct that the greater project is designed to reign in.

          You continue to treat those over 18 as though they have inviolable rights that 15 year-olds do not have. Either that, or you’re arguing that we should not compel children to attend school. Until you articulate these details a little better I’m going to have a hard time knowing how to answer you questions.

        • >>You’re slipping into rhetoric here with terms like “infantilize.”

          On the contrary, that is the core of my objection.

          >>Again, you’re working very hard off of some unstated (and unexamined) ideological assumptions

          No more so than you! LOL I’m trying to stay on topic and not derail the thread by going off into peripheral issues in an attempt to deepen the context of my remarks. I feel it is enough to state that in my view, 18 year olds (and 19 year olds, and 20 year olds) are citizens, and are therefore entitled to protection from your attempts to dictate to them how they will spend 2 years of their lives.

          >>You continue to treat those over 18 as though they have inviolable rights that 15 year-olds do not have.

          Adults are always afforded more rights than children, for practical reasons. (Whether they are actually entitled to more is an interesting discussion, but beyond what can be indulged in this forum.) And I would be much more likely to come down in favor of increasing the acknowledged rights of 15 year olds than I would in being a party to stripping existing rights from 18 year olds.

          >>Either that, or you’re arguing that we should not compel children to attend school.

          I’m not arguing that. (I do believe it, in fact, but I’m haven’t argued it here and don’t propose to, as these waters are already getting muddy enough.) It is not germane to my objections. You, in fact, are the one who brought up school, which is not particularly apt, IMO, as I know of no law that requires people over 18 to attend school in this country.

          Anyway, I’m talking all over this thread, so enough. I think I’ve made my point. I don’t think this amendment is in keeping with the philosophy (pro-liberty and justice, in a nutshell) of the others–to me, it stands out like a sore thumb–and I don’t like it. Sorry.

          Next!

        • I feel it is enough to state that in my view, 18 year olds (and 19 year olds, and 20 year olds) are citizens, and are therefore entitled to protection from your attempts to dictate to them how they will spend 2 years of their lives.

          They are citizens under the present system but have a couple of further steps under the new one.

          And once again, you keep insisting on using the word “adult” as though it has a set meaning, even though you keep moving the goal posts around. You’ve been asked a couple times to tell me what you mean by the word and you refuse.

          Which, at the very least, is ironic coming from the guy who more than anyone else here has demanded a stricter degree of specificity in the language being employed.

          You may think you have made your point. The problem is that I have no idea what that point is supposed to be.

        • A slight topic jump rushmc
          You state that you believe that we should not compel children to attend school.
          I would really like to see you to do a post on that and submit it to S&R as a guest on why. I believe it would spark a lively thread.

  2. I like this idea. I graduated high school with a 2.5 GPA. Joined the Army and four years later went to college and earned a 3.8 GPA. The first mid-terms took me by surprise, but I learned from that figured out how to talk to professors and how to study. There are a lot of people who would benefit from the time, and plenty who would benefit from serving something other than themselves.

    • Exactly RH, give kids a chance to broaden their horizons, learn some skills, and mature a little before they jump into academics or work life. I’m 110% agreed on this one, rich kids, poor kids, get them out of the hood, suburbs, gated communities, and mix them up together in a structured environment.

      People forget how much the CCC did for young Americans and America. Physical conditioning, morale, employability…all would improve for young people with this amendment.

      It might even make for a more informed voter base. How sweet would that be?

      • I also have to agree with this one for two reasons. First I believe that to be able to have a say in our government one should be informed have earned right to have their choices count. Second Like RH I was a C student in high school before serving in the military. After I got out I went to college and graduated with a 3.89GPA. World experience does make a difference in how one thinks and acts.

        • And I did better in both high school and college…what does that prove, exactly? That people are different? Presumably we all already knew that (though reading some of the comments here, I’m wondering now). Maybe tackling a difficult challenge is precisely *what* leads some people to grow and achieve. But then, I don’t think that the primary goal of attending college is to get the highest possible grade…

        • To be clear, while I understand that my rationale emphasized the college context, one doesn’t have to be college bound. No mandate there – I guess treat that as an example, and a common one, since so many people choose post-secondary ed of some sort.

        • I don’t know what you’re saying here. Your amendment clearly states that your proposed service is mandatory upon one’s 18th birthday. That’s what I and the others have been discussing. What does whether or not one attends college afterwards have to do with it?

    • >> There are a lot of people who would benefit from the time, and plenty who would benefit from serving something other than themselves.

      Is that really your call to make?

      • Two points here:

        College attendance and GPA are used only as examples of being more mature and responsible.

        Is that my call to make? Good question. Of course I know what’s good for other people, but should I enforce that on them? Isn’t that the backbone of the liberal agenda?

        • I don’t see where progs are any more controlling than cons RH. Look at the debate on a woman’s right to choose.

          This is Sam’s vision and to be implemented one assume’s bilateral support from Congress…or polylateral when rolled up with Amendment I. The point I think is that if we as a society agree that young people are going to spend 2 years in national service then so be it.

          And I would hope there would be no significant waivers other than for health reasons. Rich parents gaming the system by buying passes for their kids to avoid service has been going on since at least the Civil War and it’s horsecrap.

          We have rights as citizens and we have duties as citizens, and to enjoy one we need to fulfill the other.

        • >>I don’t see where progs are any more controlling than cons RH

          He said “liberals,” not “progressives.” And you’re setting the bar pretty low if you think we should only aspire to not be “any more controlling” than Conservatives.

        • >>College attendance and GPA are used only as examples of being more mature and responsible.

          I get that. I’m just not sure I have much faith in the correlation.

          >>Is that my call to make? Good question. Of course I know what’s good for other people, but should I enforce that on them? Isn’t that the backbone of the liberal agenda?

          Alas. Authoritarians by another name…. I come down on the “encourage, don’t enforce” side of the equation.

        • I’m not setting a bar Michael, I’m merely reporting on attitudes as I observe them. Everyone is controlling, you want the control of no control…some might say anarchy.

          I want reasonable control as agreed to by a quorum of citizens and implemented by our elected representatives. I’m older than you and have served my country, so I see things differently. That and $5 will buy me a double shot espresso at Starbucks.

          If enough Michaels say “Hey! Freedom! We don’t have to listen to the State!” then so it is, or if enough Franks say “Pack your crap kid, off to national service you go” then so that is. It’s a system, imperfect absolutely but it stands as our framework.

          This series on the New Constitution is about remedying what exists rather building new from scratch and Sam has proposed a _very_ interesting amendment. I don’t think you much to worry about though. The chances of something like this going mainstream are about zero zilch point shit.

        • >>If enough Michaels say “Hey! Freedom! We don’t have to listen to the State!” then so it is

          Which is why I’m making my case! I fully support your right to express your opinion, and I’m exercising mine to disagree with it.

          >>I don’t think you much to worry about though. The chances of something like this going mainstream are about zero zilch point shit.

          I’m well aware.

          And you’re not THAT much older than I am. But it DOES tend to be the older set that decides that living their life wasn’t enough, that they need to dictate how the next generation(s) lives theirs. And, obviously, I’m opposed to that. Real change, and “progress,” tend not to be gifted to the world by those on their way out but to be generated by those with something to gain–and to lose.

      • “And you’re not THAT much older than I am. But it DOES tend to be the older set that decides that living their life wasn’t enough, that they need to dictate how the next generation(s) lives theirs. And, obviously, I’m opposed to that. Real change, and “progress,” tend not to be gifted to the world by those on their way out but to be generated by those with something to gain–and to lose.”

        Hmm, we could go tit for tat on each of these thought bombs Michael but not having read enough of you to understand your ethos I’ll tread lightly and just ask this.

        Does your resistance to the concept of 2 years of mandatory national service extend globally to all state interference in individual affairs? Snooping, taxing, drafting, vaccinating, licensing, regulating…are these all egregious intrusions?

        • rushmc, you’ve been asked repeatedly to tell us what you mean by the word “adult” because you seem to want to use in multiple, potentially contradictory ways, depending on what serves your argument at the moment. Each time you’re asked, you pretend it never happened, but you keep trying to use it as a hammer against TNC. You do so again in your reply to Frank – and in a cynical fashion that in no way reflects what anybody here has said.

          We can’t have a good faith discussion if you keep moving the goalposts and playing rhetorical whack-a-mole. I will approve that comment if and only if you answer the question.

        • Your characterization of my comment is entirely false, and I reject it. And your censorship of a reply made to SOMEONE ELSE because I didn’t phrase it to your liking is nigh-on fascist. But that’s your right as the site owner. Sadly, by trying to engage with you on your New Constitution project (under the assumption that you knew how to debate *ideas* without taking or making it personal, because of the respect I had for your writing and your site), I’ve now soured what was one of my favorite sites online. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

          I suggest that in a week or so, when you can see more clearly, you re-read any/all of my comments here with an unprejudiced eye. I think you’ll see that I didn’t actually say or imply any of the things you are attributing to me. I feel much abused now by your treatment and forced out by your attempts to control what I say, rather than listening and responding to it.

          I am about as far from a “Randian” as anyone on this planet, but apparently shoving someone in a box and slapping an ugly label on them is the only way you know how to respond to dissent and disagreement. I can’t tell you how honestly disgusted and disappointed I am right now. I expected so much better.

        • You get more and more indignant. Meanwhile, for about the tenth time in a row, YOU REFUSE TO ANSWER THE ONE QUESTION THAT IS, BEST I CAN TELL, AT THE CORE OF THIS ISSUE.

          It is perhaps entirely possible that I misunderstand you. If so, it’s possible I have misrepresented your views in an attempt to respond anyway.

          As I said before, if I have mischaracterized your views, I’m sorry. How about making it possible for me to understand them? I desperately want a productive conversation here because, as I admit up front, I’m very open to the idea that there are pieces of TNC I don’t have right. I have begun making changes already in light of reader comments. But there’s only so much I can do with your thinking on compelling adults to do things when I can’t pin down what exactly you mean. And every time I try to respond, admittedly even though I’m not working with a full data set, my comments make you madder.

          Less righteous outrage would be helpful, as would a willingness to be more forthcoming on the salient points of the discussion. At this point, every time you post without addressing the question before you it merely amplifies the perception that you’re dodging.

        • Frank: rushmc did respond to you earlier. However, I am holding the comment for the moment because he once again is engaging in rhetorical misdirection around the word “adult,” which he has repeated refused to define in light of some significant problems with how he was using it before. I’m trying, without much luck, to keep the conversation on point, and introducing that reply right now would have the opposite effect.

          I call on rushmc to reformulate that answer around a clarification of his terms so that we all know what we’re discussion.

  3. What you are proposing is kind of like an “internship to life.” What an interesting idea. I’m not sure why rushmc was so quick to reject it, since, as you say, we already do require 12 years of schooling… which, of course, people CAN get out of. There are plenty of high school drop outs exercising their right to be released from the bondage of free education. Maybe by “mandatory” it should be “strongly encouraged” in the way that finishing high school is “strongly encouraged.” There are more 18 years olds that FINISH high school than there are ones that don’t.

  4. Sam, did you wait two years before going to college?

    Why make the age 18? We know through studies that “critical parts of the brain involved in decision-making are not fully developed until years later at age 25 or so..” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=141164708. Why not make the compulsory service go until 25.

    Wouldn’t we better served to improve the existing school system so that kids/students are taught ‘the political and policy issues facing the nation’ in a realistic and honest fashion?

    • 1: Nope. I’d have been better off if I had.

      2: If you think 25 would be better, make the argument. At the least, I’d expect the two year hitch to supercharge the remainder of that development period.

      3: We will be improving the school system. That’s in a later amendment, and yes, the two go hand in hand.

  5. I don’t agree with compulsory service…..not if we’re really striving for a free country. Compulsory service could just as well lead to indoctrination. All I was saying is that the demarcation line proposed is arbitrary…but if there had to be one should it be 18 given what we know about brain maturity today.

  6. Wow! All this discussion over the definition of ‘adult’ seems ancillary. There are lots of different definitions of when someone becomes an ‘adult’. For Jewish young men it’s age 13; in Christian ideology I believe 12 years of age is the point at which one reaches the ‘age of accountability”; in politics (e.g. right to vote) it’s 18; legal driving age (at least in my state) is graduated now (“When you turn 15, you take the drivers education class and are able to get a learner’s permit. Then at 16 you are allowed to get a license to drive on your own. But for the first 6 months, you cannot drive after 9 pm.”); legal drinking age however – 21. None of these ages define adulthood.

    Becoming an adult is not about reaching a particular chronological marker….it is about being able to make decisions for your health and welfare and for others for whom you have responsibility – children, aging parents, students, staff in a work environment,etc. No one can apply a broad brush and state that an adult is a person of a particular age. I think some of this string of comments demonstrates that pretty well.

    But, as I mentioned in my first comment in this string, there are physiological indicators of fully-developed decision-making capacity in the brain – 25 “or so”. – see even that has a qualifier. I’ve been on my own since I was 18. And since there’s been discussion of GPA’s at different ages… I had a 3.88 GPA when I left college at age 20 (because I would not get a student loan and could not afford my future tuition) and a 4.0 GPA when I finished college at age 30 (throughout all of this time I worked full-time – two jobs at a time; by 28 I was married,working full-time, and contributing to paying for our first home). Do either of those GPA figures determine at what point I became an ‘adult’?

    What about developmentally challenged individuals? For instance. a person who has accelerated physical growth but delayed mental capacity (which can, and does, occur in certain chromosomal combinations). It so NOT black and white or easily defined.

    For me, the issue is continues to be about compulsory ‘service’ not at what age that should (or should not) begin or end. I really thought that was the issue anyway but somehow the adulthood definition controversy hijacked the dialogue.

  7. How would this address people who are handicapped or otherwise unable to serve (mental illness, temporary disablility, hardship (e.g. taking care of handicapped parents or siblings))? You’d have to be careful not to disenfranchise citizens who, by no fault of their own, are unable to serve. What about a fat kid that wants to go in the Army? Does the military get a vote on who gets to do what? How would this impact the ability of the military to train people for modern warfare? Two years isn’t long enough to train a fighter pilot….

    • The legislature will account for the exceptional cases. And the two year is the mandatory minimum, not a maximum. It doesn’t change anything for people who want to be career military.

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