Cindy McCain: As John’s First Lady, I Would Help Find Opportunities for People to Serve

I want to help harness the best impulses of millions of people, Cindy McCain writes.

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The presidential election represents an enormous opportunity for America. It's not simply about choosing a new candidate for high office; it's more than that—it is about renewing Americans' commitment to one another and our country. Rarely, if ever, has this been more important. Times in America are difficult today. Anyone who looks at the television or glances at the newspaper's business section knows that. But we cannot let worries about the present crowd out our optimism about the future. For while it is common to hear warnings of the many perils our next president must skillfully navigate, he will also have the chance to usher in a new spirit of citizenship. And the next first lady will have a critical role to play.

If I have the privilege of residing in the White House, that is how I would view the first lady's role: as a chance to expand American opportunity, for the benefit of our country and the world. Americans are at our finest when we nurture the next generation and prepare a better world for all our children. I saw the potential inherent in our role years ago when I walked through the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, surrounded by terrible poverty and the devastation of a cyclone. The pain and desperation of those in Bangladesh and other poverty-stricken countries worldwide made it clear to me that Americans have a great and vital role to play.

There is an old saying, "If you are not part of the solution, you are contributing to the problem." I realized early on in my adult life that I had resources and time to devote to others. Thus, I have been involved in humanitarian efforts for a number of years, ranging from groups that provide emergency medical care to poor children throughout the world to Operation Smile, an organization that repairs cleft lips, cleft palates, and other facial deformities for children around the world, and to the HALO Trust, which is dedicated to removing landmines in war-torn countries. These and millions of other opportunities to serve are present every day, from the farthest village to the closest neighborhood here at home.

As first lady, I want to show the world that America is more than simply its government. By harnessing the best impulses of our millions, we can change the world through service and volunteerism. Since 2002, volunteerism has greatly increased, but recent figures indicate a worrisome decline.

I would host a White House Volunteerism Summit to build on the proven, best ideas currently in American communities, to bring together volunteer leaders and reinvigorate the spirit of service. My husband has committed to maintaining a White House Service to America office to coordinate service efforts across the federal government, and I'll help make sure all interested Americans are aware of the many opportunities to serve.

Work abroad. Opportunities to serve do not end at our borders, and I'll champion those working to create brighter futures for people lacking the many blessings we enjoy in America. I look forward to traveling abroad with groups that are engaged in efforts to reduce disease, repair war-torn countries, and alleviate extreme poverty. To take one example, millions around the world today—and especially pregnant women and children—suffer from easily preventable nutritional deficiencies. I'll work with the private sector and with our citizenry to help fix this. We know how to alleviate these problems. It is only a matter of resources and will. America, abundant in both, can tackle such problems, and I will welcome to the White House workers and donors taking on such great challenges.

Such work not only accords with our deepest values as Americans, but also holds the potential to enhance our standing throughout the world. As first lady, I hope to help demonstrate to the world that Americans possess an inherent goodness, one that has through the decades made our globe a better place. By harnessing the spirit of service and by making the most of America's noblest impulses, we can create together a new era of leadership. It would be a privilege beyond measure to play a role in this effort.