Trying to "Rangel" some facts

Rebecca Hagelin

12/1/2006 3:43:09 PM - Rebecca Hagelin

It was bad enough when last month we heard John Kerry insinuate that our brave and talented troops aren’t the brightest bulbs in the chandelier -- that young Americans who don’t pursue their education wind up “stuck in Iraq.” But now Charlie Rangel is actually making an argument for Kerry’s “joke” -- that our troops are ignorant and motivated by nothing higher than self-interest.

Of course, it isn’t the first time Rangel has bashed our troops and threatened to hold hearings to bring back the draft. As I wrote in this column three weeks ago, we should expect him to denigrate our volunteer military and to attempt to reinstate a coercive, unnecessary draft to “remedy” the class warfare that exists only in his imagination.

The forum was Fox News Sunday. Host Chris Wallace was questioning Rangel about his call to reinstate the draft. Because Rangel bases his rationale on the discredited notion that our troops aren’t highly educated and come mostly from poor areas, Wallace cited a blockbuster study by Tim Kane of The Heritage Foundation. The study shows, among other things, that:

  • Recruits tend to be better educated than the public at large. At least 90 percent of enlistees have a high-school diploma, while the national high-school graduation rate is 75 percent. In addition, the mean reading level of 2004 recruits is a full grade level higher than that of the comparable youth population.
  • Recruits from wealthy families are actually overrepresented in today’s military. The only income group whose participation in the military is declining is the poor. The percentage of recruits from the poorest American neighborhoods (with one-fifth of the U.S. population) declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 14.6 percent in 2003, 14.1 percent in 2004 and 13.7 percent in 2005.
  • In light of this report, Wallace asked Rangel, “Isn't the volunteer army better educated and more well-to-do than the general population?” Here’s Rangel’s reply:

    Of course not. …If there's anyone who believes that these youngsters want to fight, as the Pentagon and some generals have said, you can just forget about it. No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. … If a young fellow has an option of having a decent career or joining the Army to fight in Iraq, you can bet your life that he would not be in Iraq. … those who have the least opportunities at this age find themselves in the military, as I did when I was 18 years old.What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a revealing (and, frankly, revolting) look into the liberal soul when it comes to the military. Note the quick, imperial dismissal of the idea that anyone would want to fight to defend the freedoms the rest of us hold dear. I find it difficult to believe that Congressman Rangel actually means what he said -- he is a decorated war veteran himself, for which I am grateful. But the message he keeps sending our troops through his rude, thoughtless and even ignorant comments is that everyone in the armed forces must be poor, dumb or both. After all, nobody wants to serve his country, right?

    Wrong. Plenty of “young, bright individuals” fill the ranks of our highly unselfish, highly professional military. We’re talking about men and women who actually want to be there -- well-educated people who could have pursued lucrative careers in the civilian world but decided to join the military. Their courage makes it possible for all of us to live our lives as we see fit, to worship as our consciences dictate, to follow our dreams and to speak our minds freely -- even if it means that some of us insult the people who guard our freedoms.

    There’s another aspect of Rangel’s response that should concern all Americans, even those who might agree with him: his tendency to disregard information he doesn’t like. Rangel will soon take the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee -- a position that makes him one of the most powerful men in Washington. But with great power comes great responsibility. A powerful leader cannot lead wisely if he simply denies “inconvenient” facts that don’t suit his preconceptions, fit his political purposes or mesh with his prejudices.

    If Rangel has facts that support his contention that our troops are poor, ill-educated dead-enders with no prospects for success in civilian life, he ought to present those facts. Otherwise, he should stop abusing our brave men and women in uniform, learn to face the truth and start acting like a responsible leader.