In a strange ad on TV, President Obama encourages us to serve. My purpose in this post is not to make a point I have already made elsewhere (here and here), namely, that everyone who produces a product or a service for others does serve and that many people in government who are said to “serve” don’t.

This time, my point is different. Even on his own terms, President Obama’s view of service makes no sense. Most of his examples work. The ad shows people doing volunteer work for others and he calls them explicitly “volunteers.” Here’s the part that doesn’t work: he shows an American walking on the moon. It’s true that that person wasn’t drafted; he volunteered for the job. But he wasn’t a volunteer in the sense that is usually meant. He was a paid employee of the U.S. government.

And in case we missed the point, President Obama ends up saying words to the effect, “You may ask, ‘what’s my moon.'”

Here’s what I think is going on. President Obama wants us to think “service” means either volunteering for non-profit activities (which most of us already agree is service) or doing government work and being on a payroll.