Tuesday, June 17, 2003

There's a scene in the movie Dave, early on, when the President of the United States (played, in a dual role, by Kevin Kline) wants to cut the funding of a fairly popular program, without appearing to be the bad guy. So he gathers his flacks in Congress and basically orders them to cut the funding, saying: "I don't want to look like a prick. I want you guys to look like pricks."

The more I learn about President Bush, the more I suspect that this little scene in Dave formed the basis of his political education. Via Matthew Yglesias, I see that while Mr. Bush has publicly praised the AmeriCorps program, his pals in Congress (pals like Tom DeLay, who has no aversion whatsoever to looking like a prick -- in fact, he seems to relish it) have cut the program's funding.

AmeriCorps isn't a huge program, and some find it tempting to blow it off as just more liberal "feel-good" nonsense that really doesn't benefit anybody. In fact, one such individual chimes in on Matthew's comments section, challenging people to name just one substantive thing that AmeriCorps has done. I responded (among others) with my own experience: in West Seneca, NY -- the Buffalo suburb in which we lived before moving to Syracuse for six months -- AmeriCorps volunteers did much, if not all, of the groundskeeping work on public grounds (parks, the lawns at the town hall and library, etc) as well as garbage cleanup along the town's busiest sidewalks and thoroughfares. They also do virtually all of the groundskeeping and maintenance work at West Seneca's nicest attraction, the Charles E. Burchfield Nature and Art Center.

The AmeriCorps budget is so small that cutting it as a deficit-reduction measure makes absolutely no sense. I'd be thrilled if President Bush would stand up for his professed admiration of AmeriCorps by demanding that his band of merry men in Congress restore its funding. But meantime, I think I'll refrain from holding my breath.

(EDIT: I wrote this post before checking today's Buffalo News, which has this story. A quote about what the volunteers have done:

Lazzara [Mark Lazzarra, executive director of AmeriCorps West Seneca] said that since its inception in 1993, members of West Seneca AmeriCorps have tutored 20,000 students, cleared 20 miles of waterways, shoveled 250 tons of snow, delivered 16.5 tons of food to 65 pantries and done 90,000 hours of community service and 50,000 hours of violence-prevention mentoring.

Yeah, that's just the kind of thing we need less of these days.)

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