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Obama, slavery and Jonah Goldberg

July 8, 2008 |  3:27 pm

Plenty of blogospheric blowback and some applause for Jonah Goldberg's column today on Barack Obama's national service proposal. First, from Goldberg's column:

There's a weird irony at work when Sen. Barack Obama, the black presidential candidate who will allegedly scrub the stain of racism from the nation, vows to run afoul of the constitutional amendment that abolished slavery.

For those who don't remember, the 13th Amendment says: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime ... shall exist within the United States" ....

In his speech on national service Wednesday at the University of Colorado, Obama promised that as president he would "set a goal for all American middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of service a year, and for all college students to perform 100 hours of service a year."

He would see that these goals are met by, among other things, attaching strings to federal education dollars. If you don't make the kids report for duty, he's essentially telling schools and college kids, you'll lose money you can't afford to lose. In short, he'll make service compulsory by merely compelling schools to make it compulsory.

Wonkette's reaction: "Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb." Continued:

That is one “dumb” for each paragraph of Jonah Goldberg’s Los Angeles Times column today. For the record, we did not expect it to be “good,” in the traditional sense — we didn’t expect to read it at all! But 18 paragraphs of unmitigated “dumb” has a strangely magnetic appeal during this lazy news season. So let’s check out Jonah’s column, in which he argues that Obama’s plan to offer educational aid as a reward for national service is somehow both (a) welfare and (b) slavery....

He adds, many dumb paragraphs later, the following: “No, national service isn’t slavery. But it contributes to a slave mentality, at odds with American tradition.” Since when is the “slave mentality” at odds with the American tradition, past or present?

More reaction to Goldberg's June 8 column after the jump.

Says Jesse Taylor at Pandagon, whose proprietor Amanda Marcotte was in a Times Dust-Up last month:

There is one benefit to Goldberg’s idiotic penchant for selling every point he makes with the most offensively wrong analogy possible - he’s about 75% of the way towards Ann Coulter’s flameout into utter irrelevance, and he’s only published one book.

This accusation is because Barack Obama proposes a program of national service.  And after building up a case for national service as slavery that had never been done with such care, what does he end the piece with?

No, national service isn’t slavery.

The main reason he has to admit this is because he lapses awkwardly into a discussion of how both John McCain and George W. Bush support such programs, meaning that we’re either headed for a nation run by plantation bosses who want us to fetch the national lemonade, or his actual point - that national service offends his ethic of receiving ideological welfare for his hard work of being born and not drinking industrial cleaner instead of Gatorade.  Really, dude, stop storing them next to each other.

Outside the Beltway's Alex Knapp agrees with Goldberg's larger point on national service but faults him for "bad rhetoric." Excerpt:

Most of the outrage directed at this column deals directly with [Goldberg's first two paragraphs]. And, frankly, I do think that Goldberg did employ some bad rhetoric here. But it’s bad rhetoric used to make an excellent point. Namely, that there’s something un-American about compulsory national service....

Now, Obama’s plan, like most plans of this type, doesn’t outright mandate that all students perform national service. It merely makes such service a condition for federal education dollars. So in a technical sense, these types of plans probably don’t run afoul of the 13th Amendment. But they’re still pretty appalling, and I think that Goldberg does make an excellent point....

Look, if a kid wants to spend 50 hours a year volunteering at a soup kitchen or building a house for habitat for humanity, then more power to him. If she wants to spend that time playing video games or basketball, or even *gasp!* holding down a part-time job well, that’s her choice, too. The point of America is that you got to make the choice about what you want to do with your life, not have some bureaucrat decide for you.

Clunky prose aside, I think that Goldberg was dead on in condemning compulsory service. It’s an antiquated, un-American notion that should by no means make its way into federal law.

Scorn from Obsidian Wings:

Maybe in the schools Jonah Goldberg attended, they didn't require things like homework, or attendance, or reading, or math. It would explain a lot....

For the rest of us, though, there have always been lots of compulsory things in schools. If this counts as slavery, children have been enslaved since compulsory schooling began.

I can't wait for Jonah Goldberg's sudden discovery that some children are told -- told!! -- to clean their rooms.

I wrote a column on national service for Reason magazine a few months ago; read it here.

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