Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg told Rachel Maddow recently that “national service will become one of the themes of [my] 2020 campaign.” As the MSNBC clip below makes clear, the defining element of the plan put forward by the Afghanistan War veteran and mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is its vagueness. In fact, it’s not even clear if Buttigieg would make a year’s worth of service for high school grads mandatory or not. At one point he says he hopes to “make it, if not legally obligatory, then a social norm,” which can be read both as wanting to make it mandatory or simply a cultural expectation. There’s no mention of a national service plan in his book, Shortest Way Home, and there’s no mention of it on his campaign website either (in fact, I couldn’t find a list of any positions or policies on his website, suggesting that the Los Angeles Times‘ Doyle McManus is right when he claims that the candidate “has everything except positions on major issues“).
Buttigieg invoked the World War II service of John F. Kennedy and George H.W. Bush and his own military service as positive examples of privileged people mixing with people they otherwise would never get to know (he implies that JFK served with African Americans, but the military was segregated during World War II). That sort of service across class, geographical, and racial lines, he argues, is good for America, especially considering the “lack of social cohesion” he says characterizes not just Donald Trump’s presidency but our larger “era.”