John Bridgeland

On September 11, 2008 in New York City, Senator John McCain will share his vision on a topic he has lived – service to country. And he will share it on the anniversary of a day seven years ago when many others unexpectedly lived it as well. He will not be alone.

Service to country is an issue that transcends party, religion, race, ethnicity, age and gender, and is an American value as old as our nation. It is fitting then, that in the heat of a presidential election campaign, Senator McCain will be followed the next day by Caroline Kennedy, a Democrat who has endorsed his rival, Senator Barack Obama.

Both McCain and Kennedy will give voice to a growing American movement that includes dozens of leaders, from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Newark Mayor Corey Booker, from California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, from Senator Orrin Hatch to Senator Ted Kennedy, and from the AARP to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

What brings them together is the ServiceNation Summit, which asks all American to rededicate themselves to the service of their country and calls upon the next President and Congress to expand the opportunities for Americans to serve in their communities, across America, or in villages around the world.

ServiceNation wants to remind Americans of our currency of citizenship – that service is exchanged freely in return for rights, benefits and protections that America provides to all of us.

In a book entitled Gratitude: Reflections on what we owe to our country, famed conservative thinker William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote that “republican citizenship incites every man to be a knight.” Through service, proclaimed Buckley, conservatives can “open [their] minds to something other than a statist program, or one that lodges in the state the kind of power conservatives have been taught, at great historical expense, to husband for social uses.” Service harnesses the power of individual citizens, and leverages the power of grassroots action, to address chronic public policy problems: helping struggling students graduate from high school, mentoring young Americans who need a guiding example, responding to natural disasters, and infusing our public education system with energy and idealism. Expanding service opportunities is not about expanding government, but increasing the capacity for citizens to take action to help each other.

Alexis de Tocqueville once observed that to prevent America from becoming a “dim and dubious shape in the eyes of the citizens,” its people must “take a zealous interest in the affairs of township, country, and of the whole state.” That is precisely the meaning of citizen service.

John Bridgeland

John Bridgeland is the former Director of the Bush White House Domestic Policy Council and Freedom Corps.
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