Both John McCain and Barack Obama were interviewed before an audience at a forum sponsored by TIME and hosted by Columbia University. The topic related to the question of national service and how they further it during their presidencies if elected. Read the full transcript.
Well, look, the— the— I— I think— those are old arguments. Let— let’s look to the future. The fact is that we have to have government. When— a hurricane strikes, as it did— with Katrina— we have to have a FEMA that works, which by the way means that we should be encouraging young people, the best and the brightest, to get involved as civil servants, to pursue careers of public service, so we’ve got people who are trained in fe— federal emergency management who are able to take on the job.
Now, that does not crowd out the Red Cross. That doesn’t crowd out the thousands of church groups that’s went down there. What it means is, is that each— area has a role to play. The Peace Corps— does not crowd out opportunities for— service overseas.
You’ve got churches— and synagogues and mosques all across the country that are per— deeply involved in— efforts to deal with HIV/AIDS and malaria and— all sorts of public health issues. And yet this is a matter where George Bush I think appropriately said we’re gonna make a commitment as the wealthiest nation on earth to deal with the devastation of AIDS.
And his PETFAR (?) program has been highly successful working with not-for-profits, working with governments, working both public and private in order to solve a problem. So there are more than enough problems out there to deal with. And it— what is true is we— we don’t need to set up bureaucracies. So I would— I would distinguish between a government assist in providing people avenues for service and a government bureaucracy in which the notion is, is that the only way that you can serve is through some defined government program.
Senator, as recently as this past Sunday you talked very openly about the fact that Americans should have been asked to do more than go shopping or traveling. What would you have done as president in those circumstances to make people aware of what they should do as Americans after 9/11?
Well, first all, I would have a— called them to serve. I would have created organizations ranging from neighborhood block watch, to making sure that our nuclear power plants are secure, to— immediately proposing the Congressional legislation such as Senator Evan Bayh and I— proposed of service to country to create additional organizations, to expand Americor, expand the Peace Corps, expand the military. Obviously we were facing a new threat.
Obviously we needed to, at that time, take advantage of the unity in the United States of America. We weren’t Republicans on September 11th. We weren’t Democrats. We were Americans. And I think that if we had asked for a concrete plan of action, both on the part of federal, state, and local governments, as well as by the Congress of the United States, as well as, frankly, talking directly to the American people— yeah, the need for us all to— to serve this nation. I think perhaps we—
But, you know, I gotta tell you something, Rick. I— when I travel around this country, that spirit is still there in America. Today we’ve seen Americans respond in a way that only Americans do. And I don’t say that with any sense of superiority over any other group of people.
But I do believe we’re a unique nation and blessed with certain inalienable rights that we wanna extend to the rest of the world. But I think that— (NOISE) that we— we probably still have that opportunity. And when I say this I don’t want you to take it the wrong way. But Americans are so frustrated now with our government. Eight-four percent of the American people think the country’s headed in the wrong direction.
The approval rating is— of Congress is down to nine percent, I believe, down to blood relatives and paid staffers. (LAUGHTER) And— and this is an opportunity. This is an opportunity to lead the nation and talk to the American people and reform our government and ask for more service.