Principle over Politics? The Domestic Policy of the George H. W. Bush Presidency

By Richard Himelfarb; Rosanna Perotti | Go to book overview
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Moderator: Ronald H. Silverman

The evocative image, “points of light,” was intended by President Bush to refer to a cluster of historically appealing concepts connected to volunteer efforts and community service. If you will, allow me to quote directly from George Bush. First the president said something like this, to give you the flavor the subject matter: “Success cannot be measured by the sum of our possessions, but by the good we do for others. Whatever life and health and love we have within us, we must share with others.”

In defining “points of light”–”a thousand points of light”–the president also added the following: “A thousand points of light—what does it mean? Volunteers who measure life by holding themselves accountable for the well-being of their community.” Further extending the figure, the president elaborated by saying that a thousand points of light “can become a galaxy of people working to solve problems in their own backyard. Voluntarism says that individuals, like communities, can join hands and exchange talents for the good of America.”

And finally, this amplification on the concept: “It’s not simply volunteering but the personal act of helping another individual in need which gives us membership in a community. Volunteering is an act,” said George Bush, but he added something very important. “It’s an act of heroism on a grand scale, and it matters profoundly. It does more than help people beat the odds; it changes the odds. You might say it puts unity in community.”

Ladies and gentlemen, our panel today is going to help us understand these very important concepts—concepts that were anticipated, I think, in the conference’s opening ceremony. Both Jim Baker and Hugh Sidey were very clear about George Bush’s interest in concepts like character, service, community. It’s easy to see that, among other accurate characterizations, George Bush might be described as a great networker. Our panelists, I hope, will help us to better understand both the ideal and the reality by dealing both with the broader context—and context counts heavily—and with the more specific interest that the president and his administration had in cultivating volunteerism and community service. My hope is that the panelists will be able to share with us not only their own particular experiences with points of light, but their particular experiences as points of light.

I am going to exercise a moderator’s prerogative by intruding to offer a more specific and very brief overview of certain national service initiatives. In doing this, I will be relying very heavily on a handbook prepared recently by an entity that many of you may know little or nothing about, the National Service Corporation. C. Gregg Petersmeyer, who was there from the beginning, may have a variety of things to tell us about that relatively new entity.

Of course, volunteerism is very deeply embedded in the American experience. Tocqueville reflected on the American culture’s capacity for forming voluntary

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