Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Just when the hubbub over John Kerry’s bogus draft-reinstatement charge against President Bush was beginning to peter out, a new refrain emerged from the fever swamps this week: Mr. Bush wants to draft our doctors.

“Bush Administration looking into possibly drafting medical workers,” the Democratic National Committee huffed in a Tuesday press release. The evidence? A routine, low-level and very preliminary report issued by a contractor to a quasi-dormant government agency that says the United States might need to marshal its medical resources, including doctors, nurses and other professionals, if a national emergency were to occur — such as a catastrophic terror attack on American soil.

The DNC neglected to mention that the government routinely engages in this type of contingency planning no matter who occupies the Oval Office. In fact, this particular type was mandated by law way back in 1988, when Congress and then-President George H.W. Bush decided it made sense for the Selective Service to begin thinking harder about medical services as a component of national-emergency planning.

Since then, the Selective Service has occasionally commissioned reports on critical issues in crisis planning. These reports are circulated among relevant people in the government whose job it is to think about future crises. And that’s where it ends: The Selective Service is powerless to do much more unless the president and Congress change the laws and begin requiring it to do more.

In other words, it’s pretty uncontestable stuff. So why bring it up now? As part of the effort to paint Mr. Bush as a warmonger, no doubt. But the subtext is much more serious. If a nuclear-terror incident were to strike an American city, we’d want doctors to rush to the scene. With lives at stake, the public would rightly scorn any politician who stonewalled on contingency planning before the fact.

That’s not what the Democrats are trying to do in this case, of course. They’re looking to score some cheap political points a few weeks before the election. But let the record note how perilously close they are to doing just that.

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