After nearly half a century of staying ou of politics, partly by intent but mostly by law, the Peace Corps now is on the verge of political greatness – or at least bipartisan flattery.
The Peace Corps observes its 47th anniversary Saturday.
And as with so many other Peace Corps triumphs over the years, this latest political achievement was reached through coincidence.
During my six years in the Peace Corps, I can recall but one other instance where political flirtation raised its pretty head.
It came after a senior staff meeting to which I had invited Republican senatorial icon Barry Goldwater.
After serious questioning on what Kennedy’s new agency was all about, Arizona’s Goldwater swore that the Peace Corps embodied virtually every one of the most noble aspects and values of the Republican Party.
As far as I know, broadcasting Barry’s bias was the only political moment in the Peace Corps – at least during its controversial and glory years of the ’60s.
But now the change. Peace Corps inferences which can be drawn from current presidential campaigns are startling.
At the very time people are beginning to ask the tired old question of whatever happened to the Peace Corps, the agency has become the model for crafting all the new presidential platforms.
What the Peace Corps set out as its goals in 1961 coincides almost exactly with what most of our presidential candidates in 2008 have promised to seek at home, e.g. bringing real change, better health care, improved environmental protection, peace by means other than bludgeoning, burnishing the U.S. image abroad (an area in which the Peace Corps has no rival), promoting nonpartisan solutions, better education at all levels, with a major focus on helping the poor and disadvantaged.
As gratifying as it is for us old Peace Corps types to see our presidential candidates getting real about what the world needs now, a very significant question remains.
Literally every Peace Corps volunteer comes home recognizing he or she got more than they gave, learned more than they taught and were changed for the good forever.
Question: Is there a chance our next president, having talked the Peace Corps talk so faithfully and so long, will be able to stay real and walk the Peace Corps walk (while increasing the Peace Corps budget)?
Tucsonan Jack H. Vaughn directed the Peace Corps 1966-69, after stints as a professional boxer, boxing coach and U.S. Marine in World War II combat. He also was ambassador to Panama and Colombia, president of Planned Parenthood and an assistant secretary of state.