The Ripon Forum

Volume 42, No. 2

April - May 2008 Issue

John McCain and National Service

By on November 23, 2015


The best antidote to terror and hate are acts of kindness and service. In the wake of September 11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the effects of this antidote ring truer than ever before. No one understands this better than those who dedicate themselves to national service; to a cause that is greater than themselves.

I still remember how I felt as a 14 year-old watching the 1960 Presidential election between Vice President Richard Nixon and Senator John Kennedy. I felt energized listening to Senator Kennedy when he spoke of the Peace Corps and making the world a better and safer place. I wanted to be part of that. Eight years later, my wife Betsi and I joined the Peace Corps.

Today, when I listen to Senator John McCain and reflect on his life, I feel as inspired as when I was that 14 year old boy dreaming about “making the world a better and safer place.” I am refreshed by a nation renewing its commitment to giving back.

John McCain has demonstrated a deep commitment to promoting National Service as he runs for the most important job in the world. As a candidate for President, he witnesses inequities throughout the country. As a Senator, he advocates for expanding organizations like AmeriCorps. As a veteran, he understands the honor, discipline and sense of duty our armed forces embrace. I can think of no one better to impart those virtues on tomorrows’ leaders because with John, it’s not just talk, it’s the way he lives his life.

John recently proposed a “Troops to Teachers” program to encourage soldiers returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to teach. The program would provide referral assistance and placement services to military personnel interested in beginning a second career in public.

The initiative, which is not only beneficial to the thousands of understaffed schools across the nation, but also to veterans who often find their reentry into society post-service a difficult transition, would increase the stock of qualified teachers in our nation’s neediest schools.

John also has a particular appreciation for life because of his experience as a captive in the Hanoi Hilton. This experience left John with physical disabilities, but no scars. He does not dwell on his past experiences and instead has learned from them. His injuries make him more determined to speak out against all forms of tyranny, to encourage more Americans to serve their country, and to address humane needs throughout the world.

Senator McCain understands national service not only helps cleanse the soul, but is also a sound investment of federal dollars.

But National Service takes many forms. From relocating to an area of national or global need through AmeriCorps or Peace Corps; to teaching an inner-city child to read and write; beautifying the nation’s national parks; rebuilding after natural disasters; or putting one’s life on the line in the military; John McCain has dared Americans to take on our nation’s challenges and leave it a better place.

Senator McCain understands national service not only helps cleanse the soul, but is also a sound investment of federal dollars. It is essential we reap the returns of our investments, and national service is one of the most cost effective investments our government can make. Through service, Americans of all ages, shapes and colors can contribute their individual expertise for the betterment of the country and leverage their talents for greater good.

The passion of participants in Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and other national service programs is undeniable. As they give back to their country they also learn something about themselves, each other, and the world around them. Simultaneously, service participants have the opportunity to earn money towards educational loans and higher education expenses, which enhances the quality of our workforce.

While very few have made the kinds of sacrifices for others as Senator McCain, many others have volunteered their time and well-being for the benefit of others. That’s what service is all about.

As I reflect upon the impact National Service has had on my life, as well as the inspiration afforded to me by President Kennedy and now Senator McCain, I agree with someone I admire very much, Joe Lieberman. Senator Lieberman recently said, “Among the candidates running this year the one, in my opinion, closest to the Kennedy legacy, is John McCain, a reformer, somebody who understands ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ and remembers the other part of the Kennedy inaugural, which said that we will bear any burden, pay any price to assure the survival and sustenance of liberty. That’s John McCain.”

Christopher Shays represents the 4th District of Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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