John Kennedy summoned a generation to "ask not" and this year our nation celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps that has put 200,000 Americans into service in 139 countries. Lyndon Johnson mobilized Americans to volunteer in the war on poverty through VISTA, and Richard Nixon tapped the volunteer energy of our nation's older Americans to help at-risk youth and the elderly. Ronald Reagan talked about how our volunteer spirit flowed like a deep and mighty river through the history of our nation and tapped the initiative of the private sector. [See editorial cartoons about the economy.]
In recent years, the national and community service movement has started to fulfill the promise of engaging large numbers of Americans in making intensive commitments to serve their country. Piloted by George H.W. Bush, launched under Bill Clinton, expanded after 9/11 by George W. Bush, and strengthened by the 2009 Hatch-Kennedy Serve America Act, national service has always had bipartisan support. As Congress makes tough choices on spending, it should remember that a spirit of challenge to the American people should be part of the solution and should support this bipartisan cost-effective investment in our future.