Shortly after a landslide electoral victory on Tuesday evening, President-elect Obama unveiled a new administration website, change.gov -- part of his plan to usher in a new era of transparency in the White House. Much like his earlier campaign website, Obama's crack team of web developers worked quickly and much attention to detail and careful planning is evident in this newest offering.
With one notable exception.
The internet is abuzz and -- as the internet is wont to do -- is needlessly freaking the hell out over one word which initially appeared in a short summary/description of Obama's "America Serves" program:
Whereas Obama has previously described a program for college students which would entail an exchange of community or military service for tuition funds, the copy on change.gov put it more like this:
Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start."
And then, as they say, the shit hit the fan:
"GASP!" They shouted.
"AND SO IT BEGINS! SUCKAS! BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR!" They gloated, spittle flying.
"HE'S TRYING TO SNEAK A SOCIALIST AGENDA PAST AMERICANS!" They belched.
"OFF WITH HIS HEAD!" They screeched. (Oh, wait. That was earlier.)
"IF I AM REQUIRED TO SERVE MY COMMUNITY, I WON'T DO IT, BUT I DO IT ON MY OWN ALL THE TIME, I SWEAR!" They lied.
"HYPOCRICY! (sic)" They headlined. (Nevermind that using the words "Call" and "Require" in the same sentence isn't an example of hypocrisy. It would only be hypocrisy if, say, Obama required some people to serve, but let his own daughters off the hook. In other words, hypocrisy means expecting something of people which you don't expect of yourself.)
One simple word brought out all of the irrational fears of a contingent of the electorate whose candidate just suffered a massive defeat at the hands of a man whom they couldn't get America to fear then, and -- dammit all! -- they're going to get you to fear him now.
Is it any surprise that those same people are now latching on to a single word in an effort to justify all of the previous fear-mongering and belly-aching and "anti-America" hysteria which didn't work right up through election day?
The first clue that the word "required" wasn't used appropriately or to mean what the hungry jackals assert it meant is that (as has been pointed out by those who claim Obama is a hypocrite) it's inconsistent to "call on" people to do something that you "require" them to do anyway. The original copy didn't even make any sense.
The second clue - and the far more concrete clue - is that the concept of "required community service" has never once been mentioned by Obama or his campaign as part of his plan. During the debates he often referred to a method of helping pay college tuition fees if students agree to perform either local community service or military duty.
That's not a requirement -- it's an exchange. It's the sort of "no free handouts" policy that the right should applaud.
So, of course, the response is that President-elect Obama was handed the keys and is now trying to "sneak" a socialist agenda into his administration. Those making this claim apparently didn't pay much attention during either the primaries or the general election in which every word uttered by either candidate was parsed and re-parsed by those waiting to pounce on a mistake or poor choice of words, and they certainly aren't thinking very clearly if they believe that Barack Obama - the guy who ran one of the tightest campaigns in recent memory - thought he could simply "sneak" a requirement into a policy or that he'd do so in such a transparently laughable manner.
It's a patently absurd suggestion. It's like trying to sneak a monster truck past a sleeping baby.
If nothing else, the very fact that shifting from elective community service (in college, high-school and middle-school) to required community service would instantly doom the concept and guarantee its demise is reason enough to dismiss the fear-mongering as alarmist FUD.
And then, of course, there's the fact that the copy on change.gov no longer includes the word "required" as part of the summary:
The Obama Administration will call on Americans to serve in order to meet the nation's challenges. President-Elect Obama will expand national service programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps and will create a new Classroom Corps to help teachers in underserved schools, as well as a new Health Corps, Clean Energy Corps, and Veterans Corps. Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free. Obama will encourage retiring Americans to serve by improving programs available for individuals over age 55, while at the same time promoting youth programs such as Youth Build and Head Start.
Even this isn't enough to dissuade the faux-hysteria: The new charge is that Obama was "caught" with his hand in the socialism jar and has sheepishly backed away from an intentional effort to alter his initial plan, post-victory, into a nefarious communistic plot.
Ultimately, there's no reasoning with those who are still angry at Obama's stunning victory. These are the same people who claimed he was a terrorist, that he hated America, that he doesn't look at America like you and I look at America, that California (snicker) wasn't even going to vote to elect Obama, and that a victory for Obama would result in "the end of the world as we know it."
Those are not exaggerations of claims made against Obama, those are actual claims, and yet these are the people who expect to be taken seriously as they flip the hell out over one word which no longer appears on the change.gov website.
For the rational:
The most sensible explanation is that a copy editor poorly summarized Obama's "America Serves" plan.
If the word "require" was ever meant to be used, chances are very strong that it would have been used to say something to the effect of:
"In order to receive a $4000 grant, students would be required to provide 100 hours of community service."
"Tax cuts will be available to middle-schools and high-schools, but those schools will then be required to fold a 50 hours of community service plan into the school year."
Why is this sensible? Because it's the easiest explanation and that's usually the *right* explanation. It fits with everything Obama has stated about his plans and you can "call on" schools to implement "required" plans "in exchange for" receiving tax cuts. You can "call on" college students to perform "required" services in their community "in exchange for" grant money. There's nothing at all curious or contradictory about either of those concepts.
The criticism then, is not that Obama is secretly trying to make socialists of our students, it's that he rushed a portion of the change.gov website and published copy which was too easily misinterpreted and then twisted into something sinister by those eager and determined to misinterpret and twist.
With over a month to go as President-elect, he'll need to be more careful about that in the future.