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The O Corps

By Chadwick Matlin

Obama is creating a new kind of public service. (With a little help from Roosevelt and Kennedy.)

Barack Obama is a green-energy nut. It’s not because he’s a conservationist—his legislative record doesn’t suggest anything beyond the normal progressive votes. It’s not because he’s an Al Gore disciple—Obama won’t get near the former VP’s idyllic 10-year, 100-percent-carbon-free energy plan. It’s not because he likes whispering sweet nothings to the eco-lobby—his support of clean coal is derided. No, Barack Obama hypes clean energy because he’s convinced it’s a pragmatic step to make the country safer and help energize the economy. He has repeatedly said that once he backs the economy down off its ledge, he’s going to push a major energy stimulus through Congress.

Likewise, Barack Obama is a public-service nut. Civic engagement is a consistent go-to solution for many of his thorniest problems. College affordability? One hundred hours of community service each year translates to a yearly stipend of 4,000 college bucks. Not enough jobs for young people who just graduated or who have dropped out of school? Increase the size of AmeriCorps more than three-fold. Oil-addicted citizenry and economy? Create an energy call-to-action that rivals the original Apollo Program. Making people work for their handouts is the way a pragmatic leader makes peace with his liberalism. (See: Roosevelt, Franklin Delano.)

It’s in this new Apollo Program—which we’ll name the Demeter Project, in honor of the Greek god of harvest and nature—that Obama finds an opportunity to blend his three top priorities: the economy, clean energy, and national service. Obama first laid out his energy plan in October 2007, well before the economy was showing high-profile signs of stress. The plan has stayed more or less the same, with the fulcrum being a $150 billion investment to create 5 million new jobs.
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