Jerry’s “Magic” Lesson

by Tom DeWeese

The new national guilt trip is volunteerism. School kids are being forced to “volunteer” in soup kitchens and homeless shelters as “part of their learning experience.” Bill Clinton, George Bush and Jimmy Carter took over a Philadelphia ghetto last year, brooms in hand. Retired General Colin Powell is leading a national volunteer effort. Americans are being told they must end their selfish ways and “get involved.”

But is the guilt trip based on any facts? Are Americans really just selfish, self-centered materialists who need a government cattle prod to force them to show they care about their fellow citizens?

Was anyone watching a common American event unfold on television and in communities nation-wide this past Labor Day? Quietly, with very little fanfare, The Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Labor Day Telethon again broke all records and raised millions for its cause from “volunteers.” The money rolled in from individual contributions as well as from business. What an incredible sight it is to see corporate executives return to the show again and again with bigger and bigger checks, amounting to millions of dollars, collected from voluntary programs created by the businesses.

Comedian Jerry Lewis learned long ago that the genius of American business along with American generosity were the keys to success. When he decided that his annual Labor Day telethon was going to raise big bucks for MDA, one of his first decisions was to involve the leaders of business to channel their talents into dollars for MDA. Second, he sought to get the American people involved in projects that could bring their whole communities together to build excitement and motivation, resulting in astounding amounts of voluntarily-raised money.

Jerry Lewis went to the American people, not playing on their guilt, nor reminding them of their “duty” to share the wealth, nor threatening or accusing them of selfishness. Instead, he told of the problems, explained what was needed, answered their questions and presented a well-organized plan.

Having sold Americans on the program, Lewis then encouraged them to use their energy, talent and experience to come up with new ways to raise dollars for MDA. The results have been phenomenal for MDA – typical of the American spirit.

Every Labor Day we are treated to a parade of major corporations which, one after another, turn in millions of dollars to MDA, always pledging to do better next year. And as the telethon switches to the local affiliates, we see thousands of individuals turning in pennies, quarters and dollars that have been raised at neighborhood carnivals or just from knocking on doors.

There is a sense of excitement as the tote board rolls ever upward. And there is satisfaction in knowing that Jerry Lewis and his team have met their goal, exceeding last year’s, setting new expectations for next year.

More importantly, the manner in which the money is raised makes a strong statement. Every dollar is from voluntary contributions. No demands are made at the point of a gun. No threats of jail time are issued. No taxes are levied.

Instead, we can watch and listen to the telethon’s reasoned argument, mixed with impassioned appeals to give to “Jerry’s Kids” – or we can turn it off and go to bed. And we can do so without fear that we will awake in the morning to find an MDA official knocking on our door, demanding an audit of our books or placing a lien on our property to ensure that we give our “fair share.”

Those who believe in government programs to solve our nation’s needs, and those who think that “mandatory volunteerism” and coercion are the answers, should take a long look at the MDA success story.

MDA has proven that the American people are a generous, caring society when given the chance to choose their own issues and causes for support. Just leave the politically-correct cattle prods and tax liens out of it.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.