Ronald Reagan used to say the nine most terrifying words in the English language were: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Barack Obama is offering Americans his own twist on that message: He’s from the government and he needs your help.

Frustrated by the inability of Congress and the White House to reach agreement on much of anything, the president is increasingly relying on his powers of persuasion to cajole people and organizations to help tackle some of the country’s big problems — voluntarily.

Lots of presidents promote volunteerism, of course. This is something different.

The president this year has exercised what the White House calls his “convening powers” to bring together influential groups to focus on the challenges facing young black men, the trials of the long-term unemployed, and barriers to a college education that face the disadvantaged, among other things. He’s held a student film festival to spotlight the need to improve technology in public schools. And coming up in June: a White House meeting on working families designed to push businesses to adopt more family-friendly policies and pay female employees on par with men.

Obama will pretty much try anything to mobilize support for his agenda: He turned up on the comic website Funny or Die recently to plug his health care law on Zach Galifianakis’ mock interview show “Between Two Ferns.” Within days, the interview had snagged 18 million views, on par with Justin Bieber. The same day as the interview, Obama went sweater shopping at a Gap store in Manhattan, a high-profile reward for a company that has moved voluntarily to boost the minimum wage for its workers.
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