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Volunteerism Sputters to a Halt in Both Political Parties

Scott S. Bateman is a journalist, publisher and community activist.


Republicans and Democrats Can Address Critics While Helping Country

Volunteerism belongs in the party platforms of both Republicans and Democrats as a solution to the social problems of the United States. But both parties have lost sight of this important part of American exceptionalism.

“American exceptionalism” is the idea that America is uniquely different from other countries in key ways. The term has an unfortunate air of arrogance. But it is true that this country is — or more accurately was — uniquely different than others.

The notion arises in part because of its relationship with another American “ism” — that being individualism. Individualism permeates American society and politics in large part because the country rose on the backs and blood of early pioneers who had to survive and thrive mostly out of their own efforts.

They couldn’t rely on a government to bail them out with stimulus checks, unemployment compensation and other forms of social welfare.

But they could at least survive with the help of their communities — if they lived near anyone else. A community in the early centuries of the country didn’t have social service agencies or other forms of government or organizational help. The help came in the form of a neighbor who gave time, money or material to someone in need.

As the saying goes, those were the good old days.

Volunteerism in the Republican Party

Consider the place of volunteerism in the administrations of the most recent three Republican Presidents.

  1. George H.W. Bush popularized the phrase “thousand points of light” in speeches and especially a non-profit foundation that promotes and rewards volunteerism.
  2. His son, George W. Bush, encouraged “compassionate conservatism” through a combination of the free market, government and charities to address poverty and other social problems.
  3. Donald Trump largely killed the charity tax donation and enthusiastically slashed social programs.

Volunteerism is a moral and logical imperative for the Republican Party.

George W. Bush promoted "compassionate conservatism" for the Republican party.

George W. Bush promoted "compassionate conservatism" for the Republican party.

A moral and logical imperative

Volunteerism is a moral and logical imperative for the Republican Party. If Republicans truly want small government and low taxes, they are left with what to do about social problems in their domestic policy. Shoving them onto the states is no answer because the country ends up with the same amount of government as before. It’s just spread out a little more evenly between the federal and state levels.

If the party does nothing, which it is largely doing now, it is open to the very criticism that George W. Bush was trying to fix with “compassionate conservatism”. The 2018 Trump tax law has actually made the situation worse because the much higher standard deduction has dramatically reduced the amount of charitable giving.

It declined $54 billion nationwide in 2019, according to Newsweek magazine. Meanwhile, President Trump enjoyed a major reduction in his personal and business taxes.

A robust free market and individual motivation go only so far. They are no help to the child prostitute, crime victim, schizophrenic, developmentally disabled adult and other members of society who are in desperate need of help because of events outside of their control.

Volunteerism in the Democratic Party

Volunteerism also addresses a major perception problem for the Democratic Party, but in quite a different way. While Republicans are open to criticism of selfishness, Democrats are open to criticism about excessive welfare.

Opponents of Democratic policies often point out that the party is too willing to spend government money and the taxes of hard-working people on fixing social problems when other solutions are available.

One obvious solution is volunteerism, which includes the donation of money, labor and material resources. An aggressive platform that promotes volunteerism will show critics and doubters that the party is willing to spend tax money only when necessary.

Be loud and consistent

Their real-world solutions include legislation that creates a tax deduction separate from the standard deduction. The pandemic’s Cares Act created a temporary $300 cash deduction for 2020; making this little-known deduction permanent is an important example of how the party can promote volunteerism. Party leaders just need to speak up loudly and consistently.

The Democratic and Republican parties alike are eager supporters of volunteerism — meaning, volunteers and donations for their organizations. Both will find benefit in how voters perceive them and help the country at the same time if they emphasize charitable giving as much as they emphasize political giving.

Sources and More Information

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2021 Scott S Bateman