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Archive for Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Pelosi smart to keep draft off agenda

November 28, 2006

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Nancy Pelosi knows her history and the Democrats are better off because of it.

She may have erred getting involved in a messy internal Democratic leadership fight about which few outside the Beltway cared. But, the new House speaker had the political acumen to slap down one of her own whose personal agenda could damage the Democratic Party's.

She was a House of Representatives backbencher in 1993 when Bill Clinton became the first Democratic president in a dozen years. Clinton immediately ended his political honeymoon, and sidetracked his own legislative agenda, by getting bogged down in the issue of gays in the military.

Pelosi, who will be the nation's first female House speaker, is the face of the Democratic Party until it nominates a presidential candidate in 2008. She is making sure she does not make a mistake like Clinton's.

Even though her term doesn't actually begin until the new Democratic Congress convenes in January, last week she quickly squashed the efforts of Charles Rangel, one of the party's most senior lawmakers, to push his pet idea of reinstating the military draft.

Understanding just how much of a political loser the idea would be - and the Pandora's Box it would open to a discussion of drafting women - she cut off at the knees incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Rangel.

"Mr. Rangel will be very busy with his work on the Ways and Means Committee," Pelosi told reporters, making very clear that the House's agenda would not include debate, much less a vote, on reinstating the draft. Rangel had proposed reinstating the draft in a television interview, and the issue quickly became a media focus.

The White House and congressional Republicans were probably almost as disappointed as was Rangel by Pelosi's decisive response. That's because from a political point of view, even discussion by the Democrats of reinstating the draft would be a serious problem for them.

And, unfortunately for the GOP, there is nothing Rangel can do about it. He may be a very powerful lawmaker in this new Democratic Congress, but his committee handles taxes, not tanks.

Not only is Pelosi a student of history, but she can read the polls.

Last year, an Associated Press/Ipsos poll found Americans oppose reinstating the draft by a 70-27 percent margin. A Newsweek Poll in 2004 found 7 percent of respondents favored reinstating the draft; 28 percent thought it should be considered; and 62 percent didn't even want to consider the idea.

It is not just the American people who are against the idea. The Pentagon doesn't like it either. Military officials have testified that they like the all-volunteer army because it means their personnel want to be in the military, and that yields a more committed fighting force better able to adapt to the high-tech military.

The heavy public opinion against reinstating the draft doesn't even reflect just how emotional the gender debate would become if conscription were to return. The draft, then all-male, was ended more than 30 years ago when the women's movement was in the embryonic stage.

In the decades since, gender equality has become almost universal under American law. Any effort to reinstate the draft would almost certainly get around quickly to the question of whether to include women.

Given how things work these days, reinstating the draft would certainly wind up in more courts than you could shake a stick at. Various groups would sue to keep women out of the draft while others would sue to force them to serve.

The AP/Ipsos poll found that the country was somewhat split on the gender issue, 54 percent to 43 percent against drafting women. But that was a question when the issue was hypothetical. If it ever became a serious matter, one can only imagine the political warfare that would erupt.

Pelosi quickly understood just how much the issue of reinstatement of the draft, unless quickly taken off the table, would stamp the new Democratic leadership as the "Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight."

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