- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark proposed a “vision for New American Patriotism” yesterday that would include an army of volunteers who would be called up for service for emergencies at home and overseas.

The retired four star Army general and former NATO commander, who entered the Democratic presidential-nomination race last month, delivered the first of four days of speeches designed to flesh out his largely unknown domestic agenda.

The new 5,000-strong civilian reserve would be open to anyone over the age of 18, and the president and Congress would have authority to dispatch the new corps to address crises such as forest fires, earthquakes and even nation-building in Afghanistan or Iraq.

“I will ask for this service with the full knowledge that at some point people may be called to give up the comfort and routine of their daily lives,” Mr. Clark said in a speech in New York City. “But it is time for more Americans to find satisfaction in sharing service.”

Modeled after military reserve units, Mr. Clark said “in almost all cases” service would be voluntary. The program would cost $100 million annually, Mr. Clark said, and be paid for in a deficit-reduction plan he would outline later.

“The program could actually save money because it would eliminate the waste, duplication and delay that occur when trying to organize an ad hoc response after an emergency,” said a statement from Mr. Clark’s campaign.

Critics of Mr. Clark’s plan note that both the Clinton-era AmeriCorps and President Bush’s USA Freedom Corps program already spend billions of taxpayer dollars to help promote volunteerism.

Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, also seeking the Democratic nomination, announced in May his intentions for a similar but larger volunteer program.

“Even though he has only been a Democrat for a few weeks, Wesley Clark has already figured out that the key to being a real Democrat is creating new programs without figuring out how to pay for them,” said Christine Iverson, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee.

Former Republican Rep. Dick Armey of Texas, now co-chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy, was in the minority on Capitol Hill who vehemently opposed the idea of paying volunteers when AmeriCorps was founded in 1993.

He said yesterday that Mr. Clark’s plan “misses the point” of volunteerism.

“Mr. Clark fails to appreciate the goodness and the generosity of the American people,” Mr. Armey said. “What catastrophe did we ever have where the American people didn’t rush to be there? For him to think that you need the government to organize and manage and bribe people to show up is an insult.”

Mr. Clark has focused on his “New American Patriotism” theme to counter what he said he sees as the president’s attempt to monopolize the word “patriotism.” He added yesterday that while people rushed to help on and after September 11, the president squandered that good will.

“In that moment, there was so much the president could have called on America to do,” he said. “Instead, George W. Bush asked us to accept a massive tax cut for the wealthy … and those in power acted as if patriotism belonged to one party, challenging and attacking those who questioned the administration’s policies.”

Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, characterized Mr. Clark’s proposal as “snake oil” and a “political document” designed to help him “find a comfortable home in his new party.”

“It wasn’t about volunteers for America. It was about volunteers for the Clark campaign,” Mr. Hayworth said. “Talk is cheap. It’s important to note that the problem is that Gen. Clark will say anything, do anything, embrace any argument to try to find a comfortable home in his new party.”

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