Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 2003/ 10 Shevat 5763

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Through the past darkly


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | New York's Rep. Charlie Rangel, openly frustrated by his party's failure to recapture the House last month, ought to retire and lobby for a CNN talk-show slot. His Harlem district is 100 percent safe for a younger Democrat, so there's no worry that Nancy Pelosi might smear her makeup in a tizzy. Rangel, with his gravelly voice, is perhaps the most entertaining member of Congress, and would trounce conservative guests in primetime debate, if only because he wouldn't let them finish a sentence. In fact, Rangel's the perfect replacement for James Carville on Crossfire-Bill Clinton's wealthy apologist has appeared to lose his appetite for the program, letting the less-nimble Paul Begala shoulder the burdensome task of representing the left wing-and it'd be a hoot to see him cross swords with Tucker Carlson.

In addition, such a venue would allow Rangel to fully amplify some of his goofy political views. On Dec. 31, for example, the Korean War veteran published an op-ed piece in The New York Times advocating a reinstitution of the draft, and will introduce such legislation this week. Rangel, who denounces an invasion of Iraq as "obscene," writes: "I believe that if we are going to send our children to war, the governing principle must be that of shared sacrifice... Service in our nation's armed forces is no longer a common experience. A disproportionate number of the poor and members of minority groups [read: blacks] make up the enlisted ranks of the military, while the most privileged Americans are underrepresented or absent."

While it's gratifying to see Rangel invoking the Democratic staple of class warfare-one hopes that President Bush's opponent in 2004 will follow suit-the elderly Congressman is living in the past. Perhaps he hasn't noticed, but America's military arsenal has advanced so rapidly in technology that it's no longer necessary to field the same number of troops as in the wars of his generation. As for the "disproportionate number" of minorities in the armed forces, Rangel ought to recognize that the government doesn't force anyone to choose this profession. The all-volunteer concept has produced a military composed of men and women who want to be in uniform-just like those in the police and fire departments-and they're apt to be better soldiers because of it.

Rangel appeared on countless talk shows last week stumping for his disingenuous proposal for renewed conscription, and won over the sappy Mike Barnicle, who was subbing for Chris Matthews on the ratings-deprived Hardball. In Sunday's Daily News, Barnicle was on auto-pilot, writing: "The truth is that reality doesn't always have a happy ending. War isn't a video game or a quick, bloodless exercise where our overwhelming power guarantees a lasting peace. It means dead Americans, funerals, casualty lists and a military filled with honorable volunteers fighting and dying for a country where we rush toward a three-, four- or five-front war without really discussing the merits or meaning. The President of the United States has sincere beliefs and great determination, but he has yet to tell people like Charlie Rangel...and the rest of us where we're headed, and why."

You'd think that a veteran journalist like Barnicle might read the newspapers once in a while. How many times do Bush and his administration have to explain that Saddam Hussein is a threat to this country and the entire Middle East?

Clarence Page, in his JWR column last week, was no more coherent. He said: "With most Americans looking the other way, as Mr. Rangel suggests, the unilateralist hawks who want the United States to go it alone in imposing our policies around the world have too easy a time getting what they want. If we do go to war, we should do it with the rest of the world's support."

Another ostrich. Page has apparently purged from his memory the laborious process that Bush has undertaken since last summer to build exactly the kind of multination coalition that unilateralists were opposed to. That's why Saddam's still in power, as Hans Blix-who undoubtedly worships at the peanut gallery of busybody Jimmy Carter-and his UN inspection team dawdle in Baghdad.

T.R. Fogey, who runs a blog called Tobacco Road Fogey, offered the most poignant rebuttal to Rangel's rant on Jan. 2. Fogey, whose oldest son enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school last year, is incensed at the Congressman's political ploy. He said: "My boy's a volunteer. He wants to join one of, if not the best and most professional military organizations that this planet has ever seen... He's willing to risk his life for the chance to travel and for the GI educational benefits. He wants to drive a tank some day. Save the anti-war politicking for another time, Congressman.

"I want to know that, if my son has to put his butt on the line for this country, he's going to be accompanied by other brave men like him. Brave men who believe in the mission and who believe in each other... They are not bargaining chips in your cheap, rhetorical, political game. One of them is my kid. I'll give him to my country, even for tawdry and divisive people like you have become in the past fifty years, Congressman, because this country is worth fighting for and dying for. But I'll never forgive your efforts to cheapen the value of that gift, Congressman."

Kathleen Parker, on Jan. 5, was more succinct: "Reinstating a draft to ensure that Congress' sons are equally at risk as those who chose to join the military is a fake punch that may sound like equality but smells like race-baiting political blackmail."

Aging boomers who pine for the massive anti-Vietnam War marches of the 60s, and can't understand why today's youth isn't as fervent in protest, forget that the vast majority of students who demonstrated more than 30 years ago did so mainly because they didn't want to be drafted.

Self-preservation trumped ideology, although few would now admit that.

It's certainly possible that in the years ahead, with so many global conflicts looming, a form of conscription may indeed be necessary, but for now Rangel's idea is simply an attempt to rabbit-punch the Bush administration in an attempt to rally the Democrats' base in 2004.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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