For political activists, the issues go on and on, and sometimes 'round and 'round as they return from battles past:
Civil rights, which seemed to be settled when the country elected a black president, now are front and center once again;
Teddy-care, later Hillary-care, which was defeated, and now we have Obamacare before the Supreme Court;
Welfare reform was addressed in a bipartisan manner in 1996, though we still have the problem of children raised without fathers;
Tax reform, with rates up, down, graduated and flatter;
The annual budget debate, lately called the Ryan budget as House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan valiantly battles the national debt dragon.
But one issue I did not expect to see again in my lifetime was the military draft.
Then two weeks ago, I heard WTKK talk host Michael Smerconish interviewing libertarian Charles Murray on his new book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010," which deplores the movement of white America into two classes — one elite, one working-class. This is a fascinating issue on its own, but what caught my interest was Smerconish's agreement, after Murray left, with a review by David Brooks.
The New York Times columnist wrote, "I doubt Murray would agree, but we need a National Service Program. We need a program that would force members of the upper tribe and the lower tribe to live together, if only for a few years."
I'm sure Murray would not agree; we libertarians have a problem with involuntary servitude, not to mention the word "force."
Smerconish continued the discussion in support of the draft, arguing that once a broad sample of America's youths are involved in an undeclared war, it will quickly be over as the draftees are killed or disabled. He used the Vietnam War as an example!
Not how I remember it, Michael. Though the model wasn't one of merging classes — college students could get deferments — Vietnam did divide generations. It took many of the fathers and grandfathers of the draftees a few years to see the difference between their service in World War II and what was happening with an undeclared war, without a clear mission, based on deception by our political class, in Southeast Asia.
Thinking about this, I dismissed the discussion. Many of the parents and grandparents of new potential draftees are those who finally did end the Vietnam War with their protests and refusals to "serve"; my generation would be at the barricades to protest legislation restoring the draft. Combine us with the potential draftees themselves; the entire, sometimes-wacky, anti-war movement; and professional military personnel who don't want to hang out with unwilling buddies, and we can defeat any draft bill or politician who advocates one.
But then last week I heard political commentator Dick Morris talking about the executive order President Obama signed on March 16 "giving him vast powers to control every aspect of the U.S. economy in the event of war or even during a peacetime 'emergency.'"
Morris cited Edwin Black, writing for the liberal-oriented Huffington Post, warning that the National Defense Resources Preparedness Order "may have quietly placed the United States on a war preparedness footing," giving the president the power "to take control of all civil energy supplies, including oil and natural gas, control and restrict all civil transportation," even allowing a draft "in order to achieve both the military and non-military demands of the country."
What war are we preparing for? Will draftees be better than a professional military if missiles start flying around the Middle East? Is someone invading China? Whom do voters call to protest an executive order?
I'm probably overreacting to the threat involving an issue that first got me involved in political activism. I volunteered for Barry Goldwater, who wanted to repeal the draft, in 1964's presidential campaign. Though Goldwater lost, President Nixon finally signed that repeal in 1973, which is why I remain fond of Republicans.
So, really, what are the chances today that the draft will return? Some liberal opponents could be won over by calling the draft "national service," placing draftees in human service roles. Some conservatives think it would be "good for young people to get some discipline." David Brooks argues the value of mixing the classes; because of late-Vietnam-era reforms, there would be few excuses for not serving.
We know that our present volunteer military is badly overextended and in need of reinforcement. Some leaders don't want to solve this by getting out of Afghanistan; some want to go into other countries, as well. And a draft to cover "both the military and non-military demands of the country" would certainly improve the unemployment rate.
Never fear. Fiscal conservatives will object to the unaffordable cost of putting all of Generation Y on the public payroll. The War Resistors League, which considers "all war is a crime against humanity," will peacefully protest at least the military demands. Libertarians, some of us with walkers, fighting with canes, will man the barricades. I'm not worried.
Wait! I am hearing Col. David Hunt, filling in for Howie Carr on WRKO, recommending "universal service" for young people. Where is this coming from? Make it go away!
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Barbara Anderson of Marblehead is a regular contributor to the opinion pages.