Saturday, December 16, 2006

Rangel's Draft

Incoming chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y has promised that he will introduce legislation calling for a military draft making men and women eligible for service, with no exemptions beyond health or reasons of conscience. The purpose appears to be more a matter of politics and social engineering than pragmatic national defense. Rangel said, “[T]his president and this administration would never have invaded Iraq, […] if indeed we had a draft and members of Congress and the administration thought that their kids from their communities would be placed in harm's way.” Maybe, maybe not.

Another reason he offers is that it is a matter of “fairness.” His website states, “As long as Americans are being shipped off to war, then everyone should be vulnerable, not just those who, because of economic circumstances, are attracted by lucrative enlistment bonuses and educational incentives.” For youngsters wary of rifles and crew cuts, Rangel would allow other forms of involuntary servitude: "[Y]oung people (would) commit themselves to a couple of years in service to this great republic, whether it's our seaports, our airports, in schools, in hospitals[.]" I know that I’d sleep a little easier knowing that our airports are being guarded by pissed-off teenagers who don’t want to be there.

Whatever the nature of the service, Rep. Rangel assumes that the government has preemptive claim over the lives of its citizens. From where does this assumption arise?

The Constitution does give Congress power “to raise and support armies…” in Article I, section 8, clause 12. But as Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar points out: “By itself, the authority to ‘raise’ armies in clause 12 no more naturally grants Congress the power to conscript soldiers than does clause 1’s authority to ‘lay and collect Taxes [and] Duties’ grant Congress the power to draft tax collectors and customs officers; nor does clause 9’s authority to ‘constitute tribunals inferior to the Supreme Court’ grant Congress the power to conscript judges and bailiffs; nor does clause 13’s authority to ‘provide and maintain a navy’ grant it the power to engage in the odious practice of impressment (to compel a person to serve in the military).” Perhaps the great statesman Daniel Webster put it more eloquently when, arguing against a draft for the War of 1812, he said, “Where is it written in the Constitution, […] that you may take children from their parents, and parents from their children[?]”

Before some of you accuse me of being a “draft-dodging pinko,” let me just say that I voluntarily served six years as an infantry rifleman, and that I have every respect for our current volunteer military and the conscripted veterans of the past. If I was 18 again I would volunteer again, even if it meant deployment to Iraq. But if I had been drafted, I would have introduced my draft notice to my trusty Zippo lighter. A government that views its young people as property of the state isn’t worth fighting for. Conscription is a statist slap in the face of freedom-loving Americans. Let's hope Rangel's bill goes down in flames.

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