Jewish World Review Jan. 21, 2002 / 8 Shevat, 5762

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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How Bush could be Generations X and Y's Kennedy ... and guarantee a GOP victory in the midterm elections -- TWO steps President Bush could take would all but guarantee a Republican victory in the midterm elections: Wage war on Iraq, and institute a call for national service.

Partisan political advantage is not a reason for taking either step, but would be a consequence of both.

Bush is currently the most popular president in the history of polling, chiefly because he has been doing what he thinks is right. He has been guided in his policy choices by his conscience rather than by his pollsters, which is a refreshing change.

War with Iraq is necessary because Saddam Hussein is trying as hard as he can to build weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. Once he has acquired these capabilities, there is little doubt he will use them. He must be stopped beforehand.

Americans understand this. A Gallup poll in November indicated about 75 percent of us think Iraq should be the next target in the war on terror. The events of 9/11 have brought about a resurgence of patriotic feeling, and shined the spotlight on severe shortcomings in border control and airport security.

The events of 9/11 also have exacerbated the disconnect between the most privileged in our society and those who protect them. The sons of farmers and factory workers serve in the Armed Forces. The scions of Harvard and Yale do not.

A draft apparently is not necessary for our active duty military. But a draft may be the only way to provide, quickly, at a price we can afford, the number and caliber of people required to guard our borders and our airports. Cinderella's fairy godmother could wave a magic wand over house mice and turn them into carriage horses. But Congress can't wave a magic wand over the minimum-wage rent-a-cops who perform airport screening and turn them into Marines. News that the Transportation Department will not require screeners to be high school graduates is ominous.

Experts think the 9,000-strong Border Patrol needs to be at least doubled, and perhaps tripled in order properly to guard our borders.

A draft for homeland security could solve these manpower problems.

A homeland security draft could also serve as a unifying force in a nation rent by divisions exacerbated by the "diversity" mavens, and as a reminder to the privileged in our society that freedom isn't free.

We need a draft, said John Judis of the New Republic, "not in order to fill the ranks of the military but in order to repair the frayed links among American citizens, their nation, and their nation's foreign policy."

A draft for homeland defense could be as popular as it would be useful. Nearly 80 percent of respondents told Gallup in September they'd support a draft if it were needed to win the war on terror.

The political benefit to the GOP derives less from the popularity of these measures than because they would divide Democrats, and drive from the forefront of public consciousness the issues about which Democrats would prefer to talk.

Only twice in the last 50 years - in 1962 and in 1970 - has the president's party gained seats in the Senate in the mid-term elections. (It has never gained seats in the House.) Three factors contributed to the strong showing of the Democrats in 1962:

The first was the popularity of John F. Kennedy, America's most admired president before Bush. Kennedy's popularity was boosted by the Cuban missile crisis, settled just weeks before the election.

The second was that President Kennedy's popularity was much greater in 1962 than it had been in 1960, when he was elected in what, before Bush-Gore, had been the closest election ever. The chief reason why the opposition party gains seats in off-year elections is because weak sisters dragged in on the president's coattails get beaten. Kennedy had no coattails in 1960. Bush had none in 2000.

The third reason was reapportionment. Democrats had the advantage for half a century. But not this time. Republicans could gain half dozen House seats from the redrawing of district lines.

Many in my generation get misty-eyed when JFK is mentioned. Bush could be for Generations X and Y what Kennedy was for us. For Democrats, that's scary.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly