Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Boy Scout Jamboree, Obama, and Dirty Jobs

So in case you missed it, the Boy Scouts of America turned 100 this year. They celebrated this anniversary with a fantastic Jamboree over the past 9 days. A week ago, on Wednesday, opening ceremonies were held. Many dignitaries attended including Miss America and Sgt. Slaughter. The Secretary of Defense was there. President Obama was not.

Now it might be presumptuous to expect the President of the United States to attend your birthday party. Even your 100th. Maybe the most you should expect is a shout-out from Willard Scott (is he even still on TV?). A Presidential visit is not without precedent. In fact, each of Obama's three immediate predecessors made the trip during their presidency. It's not like it would be a huge undertaking -- Fort A. P. Hill is a mere 70 miles or so from the White House, so about a twenty minute ride in Air Force One. Obama did send a taped message (you can read the transcript here: for the big arena show on Saturday night. All 95 seconds of it.

This week also marked another centennial anniversary. President Obama did attend that one --on Thursday last week. The National Urban League Centennial Conference was the locale for a nearly 45 minute address. Also on Thursday was an airing of The View that featured the President. It was taped on Wednesday at about the same he could have been welcoming the Boy Scouts to the Jamboree opening ceremonies.

Mike Rowe is the host of the popular cable show "Dirty Jobs." He is also an Eagle Scout. He was the "Big Name" entertainment at the arena show and gave a very impressive and heart-felt speech about what scouting did for him. He repeated the Scout Law: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave and reverent." There was one quality he left off -- clean. He then proceeded to give a speech in defense of dirt. And it was brilliant. He spoke of his first boy scout meeting in which he found himself bruised and bleeding within the first 5 minutes. He told his father when he picked him up after that first meeting that he didn't think scouting was for him. Mike relayed many humorous vignettes of his scouting career, all with keeping in mind his premise, that "A scout is clean... but not afraid to get dirty." The essential point he stressed, though, really made an impression. He stated that what scouting gave him is "the ability to be uncomfortable. And like it." Anyone who has spent a seemingly endless damp night in a tent, frozen to the bone, and just plain miserable knows what he is talking about. He said that scouting is about being out of your element and stretching your comfort zone.

If you haven't seen Mike's TV show, let me set the stage a bit. He spends a day doing the job of ordinary men and women who have unusual and dirty jobs. In most cases there is either an element of danger or disgust, and often there is both. So he is continually stretching his comfort zone as he wrangles and tags alligators, or collects bat guano, or retrieves golf balls from water hazards. The lessons that scouting imparts on our youth do not give one the ability to do any specific job. Instead, they offer a launching pad where every job is within reach. Especially the dirty and difficult jobs.

A key component of President Obama's campaign platform and current policy has been to highlight and promote voluntary service. He credits his work as a community organizer as giving direction to his life, and cites his work in Chicago as an example of how one person can make a difference. Yet here was an opportunity to celebrate our young people who are out there in their communities and doing good turns daily. There are over 4 million scouts in the US, making the boy scouts the largest youth service organization in the country. President Obama is currently the honorary president of Boy Scouts of America and the best he can do is a video message less than 100 seconds long. Not even 100 seconds for 100 years...

I return to Mike Rowe's comments and am struck with whom President Obama chose to spend time last week: the ladies of "The View," and fellow lawyers and community activists at the National Urban League. Not exactly stretching his comfort zone.

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