Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy had a great idea. He would create an agency, the Peace Corps, to send idealistic young Americans abroad to spread their wealthy nation’s know-how among the impoverished peoples of the world. Lately, public schools in the United States have taken JFK’s idea and turned it around. Why not invite the impoverished peoples of the world to come here to enlighten us? America is still the planet’s wealthiest country, but it is no longer, by international standards, a particularly well-educated one.
Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who was a driving force behind that administration's Africa initiative, writes plaintively about GOP cuts to programs he helped create: Senegal is conducting indoor spraying campaigns and providing effective, new combination drug treatments. Volunteers are going door to door in impoverished neighborhoods, instructing women in the proper use of nets. The result? From 2005 to 2008, mortality among Senegalese children ages 6 and under dropped by a third, with reductions in malaria playing a major role.
Sargent Shriver passed away on Tuesday, at the age of 95. His is not a household name, at least to my generation. But it should be. Shriver established the Peace Corps. He launched and ran key programs of the War on Poverty. He worked with his wife to create the Special Olympics.
Does the Obama administration have any idea at all what it wants out of its development efforts? In a recent speech at SAIS at Johns Hopkins, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Washington’s new six-year, $63 billion Global Health Initiative. She was at pains to differentiate the administration from its predecessor—yet one more recapitulation of a by now familiar trope, but one that is particularly disingenuous in the case of global health, where the Bush administration’s record actually was very good.
It's a beautiful Saturday afternoon in October, and, as Republican Representative Chris Shays drives between churches in his affluent Connecticut district, he is talking about the possibility of being knifed. "Rahm Emanuel--if I got a knife, it would be in my belly," he says, referring to the combative head of the Democratic Caucus. "With Nancy," he continues, alluding to the House speaker, "it would be in my back." He then goes on to tell a story about an encounter that took place two years ago at the House gym.
On January 4, 1947, 130 men and women met at Washington's Willard Hotel to save American liberalism. A few months earlier, in articles in The New Republic and elsewhere, the columnists Joseph and Stewart Alsop had warned that "the liberal movement is now engaged in sowing the seeds of its own destruction." Liberals, they argued, "consistently avoided the great political reality of the present: the Soviet challenge to the West." Unless that changed, "In the spasm of terror which will seize this country ...
As we walked along Timbuktu's sandy streets, past mud mosques and houses, warm winds from the Sahara whipped dust over the city, obscuring the sun and stinging my eyes. The wind did not bother my guide Muhammad, however.
There is realty only one industry of any consequence in Washington, DC. Whatever else that goes on spins in some orbit around the federal government. So when an incumbent President is turned out of office, the revolving door starts spinning too. Nobody leaves town, they just trade places. It occurs at every level. Members of congressional and committee staffs who spent the last several years developing legislative programs and engaging in "oversight," as it's called, have now moved with the new administration into the agencies they previously oversaw to direct the programs they created.
Sargent Shriver chose the Farmers Union convention in St. Paul as the stage from which to blow his first bugle in the war against poverty. It seemed a natural selection for a militant visionary. There are few places left to seek the embers of evangelical populism except in the vaults of the Farmers Union. And yet, Shriver's words were unexpectedly prosaic. His prepared speech used incense for no altar except the taxpayer's dollar, incantation for no angel except individual initiative, exoicism for no devil except the boondoggle. Nothing could have been imagined less in key with his audience.