Buttigieg Advocates National Service to Boost 'Social Cohesion'

Susan Jones | April 16, 2019 | 8:05am EDT
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South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is running for the Democrat presidential nomination. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, now running for the Democrat presidential nomination, says he wants more young Americans to mix with people of different backgrounds, but he doesn't want them to have to go to war to do that.

He told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Monday night that a national service program could repair the "fraying...social cohesion" that made the Trump presidency possible, in his opinion.

That's one of the reasons I think national service will hopefully become one of the themes of the 2020 campaign. Because if we really want to talk about the threat to social cohesion that helps characterize this presidency, but also just this era, the one thing we could do to help change that would be to make it -- if not legally obligatory but certainly a social norm -- that anybody after they're 18 spends a year in national service.

So that afterwards, whether it's civilian or military, it's the first question on your college application if you're applying for college; or it's the first question when you're being interviewed for a job if you're going right into the work force.

Now to do that, we're going to have to create more service opportunities and we're going to have to find a way to fund it. But I think it's worth approaching.

Buttigieg used his own military service as an example. He enlisted in the Navy Reserve several years after graduating from Harvard University and Oxford University.

"The thing that put me over the edge was actually a campaign visit," Buttigieg said:

I was knocking on doors as a volunteer for Barack Obama in some very low-income, very rural counties in Iowa, and was blown away by how many times I would knock on a door, talk to a young person who was on their way to basic training or on their way into recruitment. And I began to realize just how stark the class and regional divides had become. I could count on one hand the number of people I knew at a place like Harvard who had gone on to serve. And I began to feel like I was part of the problem.

You know, I grew up on the tradition of people like John F. Kennedy -- a young John F. Kennedy, experienced in military service, the most probably racially integrated environment that he could have been in at the time, found himself on equal terms with the sons of farmers, laborers from the Midwest. George H.W. Bush, same thing.

As the scions of wealthy and powerful families, it was expected of them that they would serve. And it helped them get to know people of different backgrounds. I was by no means the scion of a wealthy or powerful family, but I did have the privilege of this amazing education.

And again, I began to think, like maybe that's a reason I should be contributing and should be as liable to getting called up as anybody else in this country, rather than kind of one more thing that separates me from other people I knew from my region or my hometown who had served. So I went in for the commission in intelligence in 2009. I'd studied Arabic. I thought that might be useful. But it later came back that the recruiter wrote down that I had studied aerobics.

Buttigieg said national service is an idea that "everybody likes" but it's never "urgent."

He said the idea "requires policy intervention" to gain traction.

"I get the obstacles, he said. "I get that it would be challenging. If we made it more of a priority, I think we could establish that as a norm by the time my kids are going to college."

Buttigieg and his husband do not have children right now, but he said they hopes to have them some day.

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