- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

John Kerry knows more secrets than a sleepover of giggling schoolgirls. They’re all about George W. Bush.

The president has a secret plan to expand the war. The president has a secret plan to call up the reserves. The president has a secret plan to stiff black voters and steal Florida again. The president has a secret plan to cut the allowance of the twins. Yesterday he told farmers in Wisconsin that the president has a secret plan to curdle milk prices.

Monsieur Kerry’s friends and fellow campaigners know about secret plans that nobody else has heard of. The most persistent of these is the president’s secret plan to restore the military draft. This is the rumor that has set off mass hysteria in some cushy suburbs of America, where millions of teenagers expect to sleep late when and if country calls.

Some of the Kerry old folks remember fondly how the students drove the frenzy of the Vietnam War protests, and yearn to tap into another generation of pious anger and aim it at George W. Bush. If you apply the usual test to the rumors — who benefits from speculation about restoration of the draft? — you might conclude that the Kerry campaign is pushing the phony draft talk. His artful denials are designed to encourage the rumor-mongering.

The secret plan has been floating about the Internet, the source of all things fake and fanciful, for weeks. Months even. Sometimes the rumor comes with a starting date, usually “June 15, 2005,” and sometimes not. Howard Dean, in one of his reflective moods between screams, predicted during the primaries that the draft would be restored early in a second Bush term. So did Max Cleland, the former Democratic senator from Georgia.

Sometimes people who know better, like Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, push the rumor along with obscure speculation. Mr. Hagel is the co-chairman of the Republican campaign in Nebraska, who occasionally tries to get himself in the news in the way perfected by John McCain, by needling and baiting George W. Bush. He says the draft may be necessary “in the future.”

Well, yes, of course it “may.” We will certainly need a draft if the Martians land spaceships in Omaha to tryst with Venusians sailing up the Missouri River from Kansas City. If the Omaha cops can’t handle it, the usual dozen resolutions by the United Nations Security Council are ignored and the Nebraska National Guard is otherwise occupied in Iraq, all bets are off.

Short of all that, it’s difficult to imagine circumstances that would be worth the grief, headaches and the firestorm on Capitol Hill that animating the Selective Service System would ignite. Vice President Dick Cheney, the man the Democrats usually invoke as the organizer of Armageddon, says it would require nothing less than a crisis “on the scale of World War II before anybody would seriously contemplate the possibility of going back again to the draft.”

There’s an Internet site (stopthedraft.com), naturally, to monitor any attempt to send greetings to all young men between 18 and 26. But Barry Zellen, the Boston technical writer who put it up, scoffs at the rumors. “The Internet is helping propagate the myth,” he told the Seattle Times.

The only people hot to get the draft going again are Democrats. Sen. Ernest Hollings of South Carolina and Rep. Charles Rangel of New York have introduced separate legislation to require both men and women to perform either “military or civilian government service.”

That was two years ago, and everybody assigned the legislation the usual snowball’s chance in Baghdad, and its prospects have dimmed since. One co-sponsor, Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington, says he’s for it because “if those who are pushing for war knew that their children might be required to share the burden of that war, there might be a greater willingness to work toward peace and diplomatic solution.”

Four decades ago, “idealistic” students from coast to coast couldn’t march fast enough or far enough on behalf of peace, justice and oppressed Vietnamese peasants. Then Richard Nixon, crafty as always, ended the draft. Campus protest evaporated within a fortnight.

There’s a consideration this time that no politician, left or right, dares touch. The legislation that put the draft on standby way back when specifically exempts women, and almost nobody imagines that such a sexist, i.e., gallant, exemption could withstand an inevitable constitutional challenge now. What a delicious prospect.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times

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