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After Johnny’s Marched Home: Military Veterans and the Shaping of American Politics

With every major military conflict involving Americans the nation has reevaluated its relationship with the veteran, partly in consequence of the demands each specific war required it to lay upon the soldier in the first place. The changing face of industrialized society and the technologies of war as well as political thought have influenced each generation’s consensus…How veterans themselves have responded to their new status as citizen-soldiers turned soldier-citizens has traditionally reflected national attitudes. Beyond any affects of combat, the equation of individual civic duty and civic virtue and the nation’s reciprocal duty and virtue has influenced—although not dictated—veterans’ social and political behavior. Aside from the significant role citizen-soldiers fill in defending the country, citizen-veterans have played a defining role in the shaping of American political culture that has not been widely appreciated. The combined circumstances of the polarized electorate and the estimated already 2.6 million soldiers of the post-9/11 wars who have returned to civilian status recently—in private ceremonies on guarded bases far away from the public eye—highlight the value of a modest conceptual review of veterans and politics in America.


New CIRCLE Report on Youth Political and Civic Engagement

Yesterday, the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) presented a new report on educating America’s youth for civic and political participation at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

The report, “All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Engagement”, written by the Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge, a multidisciplinary group of scholars convened by CIRCLE. The purpose of this report is to inform Americans about deficiencies in youth civic knowledge and engagement.


Civic education and voter turnout

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) recently raised the interesting question of whether civic education laws affected youth voter turnout in the 2012 election. To explore the answer, CIRCLE “compared youth turnout (for citizens between the ages of 18 and 29) in three groups of states[…]. The first group had strengthened their requirements for high school civics or American government courses or statewide tests in civics. The second group already had some requirements in place and did not change them between 2004 and 2012. The third group weakened their course or testing requirements between 2004 and 2012.”


The case for citizen engagement

Writing before the election at NonprofitCommunity.com, Carolyn J. Lukensmeyer, executive director of the National Institute for Civil Discourse and author of the forthcoming book Bringing Citizen Voices to the Table, makes the case for more direct citizen involvement in governing decisions. Worried that part of the cause of our current political dysfunction is a hyper-partisan form of politics, Lukensmeyer believes that citizens themselves can—and should—come together and “make the important decisions that need to be made.”


Post election analysis

We’ll leave the real post election analysis to the experts, but do want to point out just how incredible the act of voting is. Writing yesterday morning in The American after waiting in line in the cold to vote, AEI’s Michael R. Strain poses the excellent question: “What in the history of mankind would make you think that such a thing was possible?”


Frederick Douglass on the importance of voting

Today, as voters across the country stand in long lines to perform their civic duty and cast their votes, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of why voting should be so important to Americans. In 1865, Frederick Douglass addressed the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in Boston and provided a robust defense of black Americans’ desire to vote. His words are worth reading again today.


Citizenship round-up

Here are some recent happenings in the citizenship world:


Democracy at risk?

In the Huffington PostAlex Wirth, part of the Harvard Public Opinion Project, discusses the results of a new poll by the Project that finds that youth voter (defined as voters ages 18-29) turnout this November could be the lowest on record.


Democracy Prep students: vote for somebody

Fourth grade students at Harlem Prep, part of  Democracy Prep Public Schools (one of the charter school networks profiled in Strengthening the Civic Mission of Charter Schools), have created a catchy song, sung to the tune of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call me Maybe,” encouraging eligible voters to get out and vote this November 6. Check it out.


What’s happening in the citizenship world?

We’ve not had a roundup of news bits from the citizenship world in a while, so here are some recent items that we found interesting:

  • According to the Pew Research Center, youth engagement with politics is down, compared to this time in the 2008 presidential election cycle.
  • The good news, though, is in the “Power of the Ask”.
  • In September, the Library of Congress unveiled the new Congress.gov, to replace the old THOMAS database.
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More on mandatory voting

We’ve covered before some recent arguments for and against the idea of making voting in some way mandatory for American citizens. Joining the debate now is Eric Liu, author of The Gardens of Democracy, who wrote earlier this week in his Time Ideas column in favor of mandatory voting.


Understanding the “veteran vote”

Writing last week for The Huffington Post, Jason Dempsey, a career infantry officer in the U.S. Army and author of Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relationstakes a look at just what constitutes the “veteran vote”–and whether there really is such a thing.


Mid-week roundup

Some recent news happenings in the world of citizenship:

  • Samoans seek U.S. citizenship.
  • With the November elections approaching, CIRCLE’s Peter Levine takes a look at some different ways people view the right to vote.
  •  At Vanity Fair, Paul Goldberger defends Frank Gehry’s proposed Eisenhower Memorial
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    Mandatory voting?

    Writing last week in Bloomberg, Peter Orszag, a former director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration, argues that voting should be made mandatory. Using Australia as an example of a country where compulsory voting already exists, Orszag notes: “Mandating voting has a clear effect: It raises participation rates.” The United States currently has voter participation below 60 percent.


    Fault lines in our democracy

    William E. White writes in the Huffington Post that “Americans have forgotten the reason why we educate children in America. As a result our children, schools, communities, and the nation are suffering. […] We have forgotten that there is only one purpose for an education system in a republic: to educate citizens.”


    Why Tuesday?

    Do you know why we vote on Tuesday?


    Mid-week roundup

    What’s happening in the citizenship world? Here’s a mid-week roundup of recent tidbits we found interesting:


    November 8: Election Day

    Today–the Tuesday after the first Monday of November–is election day! As we discussed in yesterday’s “Making voting mandatory?” post, voting is a civic responsibility for all citizens, and so we encourage you to go out and vote today.

    The Washington Post and Politico each have good round-ups of the major votes happening across the country, but you should check with your local election board to see what people in your area will be voting on today.

    If you’ll be voting around the D.C. area, here is some general information that may be helpful:


    Making voting mandatory?

    Over the weekend, William Galston of the Brookings Institution penned a conversation-starting op-ed in the New York Times.

    The gist of the thought experiment is this: What would happen if we in the United States made voting mandatory–like jury duty? Australia, along with 30 other countries, has mandatory voting laws, and this has caused voting turnout-rates to stabilize at around 95 percent.

    Galston offers three reasons for enacting such a law: 1) It would create stronger citizens, who recognize that citizenship comes with both rights and duties; 2) it would provide representation for those citizens who currently vote at disproportionate levels, such as those with lower incomes and education levels; and 3) it would work to negate the increasing polarization of politics by catering to the middle:

    Imagine our politics with laws and civic norms that yield near-universal voting. Campaigns could devote far less money to costly, labor-intensive get-out-the-vote efforts. Media gurus wouldn’t have the same incentive to drive down turnout with negative advertising. Candidates would know that they must do more than mobilize their bases with red-meat rhetoric on hot-button issues. Such a system would improve not only electoral politics but also the legislative process. Rather than focusing on symbolic gestures whose major purpose is to agitate partisans, Congress might actually roll up its sleeves and tackle the serious, complex issues it ignores.


    We don’t know what the outcome would be. But one thing is clear: If we do nothing and allow a politics of passion to define the bounds of the electorate, as it has for much of the last four decades, the prospect for a less polarized, more effective political system that enjoys the trust and confidence of the people is not bright.

    It’s an interesting and unconventional argument, but one worthy of thought and discussion. How do we increase and strengthen Americans’ civic responsibilities?


    North Dakota–really a state?

    John Rolczynski is an involved citizen. Since 1995, the 82-year-old North Dakotan has been trying to make sure his home state is really a state. Though originally admitted into the Union in 1889, as the Valley News explains,

    the original state constitution left out the executive branch, the Governor and other high ranking officials when it explains who needs to take the oath of office. Rolczynski says that puts the state constitution in conflict with the federal one, making it invalid.

    Fortunately, thanks to Mr. Rolczynski’s efforts, Senator Tim Mathern of Fargo has introduced a bill to bring North Dakota’s constitution in step with the federal one.

    Learn more about this citizen’s efforts here.