Sorry, Charlie

Rich Tucker

12/1/2006 12:01:00 AM - Rich Tucker

“It doesn’t matter what I know,” Tom Cruise’s character says in A Few Good Men. “It only matters what I can prove.” Well, life is now imitating art, but it’s giving us a mirror image -- one that’s the exact opposite of the truth. As an example, Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y., wants to bring back the draft.

Why? “No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits. And most all of them come from communities of very, very high unemployment,” Rangel announced on FOX News Sunday Nov. 26. There’s just one problem with Rangel’s position: He can’t prove it, because it’s factually incorrect.

As Tim Kane, an economist at The Heritage Foundation, wrote recently, “The wealthiest 40 percent of neighborhoods in America are the home of 45.6 percent of 2005 enlistees. For every two U.S. recruits from the poorest neighborhoods, three come from the richest.”

Kane, an Air Force veteran, has run the numbers, and he’s got the facts on his side. But that didn’t slow Rangel down a bit. “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,” the congressman insisted. “The record is clear, and once we are able to get hearings on this, everyone will see what they already know, and that is that those who have the least opportunities at this age find themselves in the military.”

Well, if Rangel really looks for the facts he’ll find, as Kane did, that enlistees are intelligent and certainly have options. “The average reading level of new soldiers is roughly a full grade level higher” than that of the average civilian, Kane writes. And an impressive 97 percent of enlistees in 2003, 2004 and 2005 were high-school graduates, far ahead of the civilian graduation rate (80 percent). Our volunteers serve because they want to. Rangel’s position seems to boil down to, “I believe this, so it must be true.” Comedian Bill Maher provides another shining example.

“If we were really looking for a new direction, we’d not just change Congress, we’d have another Constitutional Convention, as Jefferson suggested we do,” Maher wrote recently in the Boston Globe. “Jefferson said: ‘Let us provide in our Constitution for its revision. . . every 19 or 20 years. . . so that it may be handed on, with periodical repairs, from generation to generation.’ He himself was saying, I’m a bright guy, but even I can’t foresee the iPod.”

But Maher’s position completely ignores the reality that there is a process for revising the Constitution. In fact, it’s been amended 27 times. Not counting the Bill of Rights, that’s 17 alterations, an average of one every 12.76 years. We’re actually ahead of Jefferson’s proposed timetable. But amending the Constitution is difficult. It requires either a two-thirds vote of Congress or the support of two-thirds of state legislatures to pass an amendment, which then must be approved by three quarters of the states. In other words, a measure must have overwhelming public support before it can become a constitutional amendment.

And it’s Maher and his fellow liberals who disapprove of this arduous process. They’d rather have unelected judges “fix” the constitution for us. Hence they’ve found a right to privacy, limited the right to bear arms and stretched the commerce clause to allow the federal government to regulate individual behavior in a myriad of ways.

Finally, speaking of mirror images, we come to the war in Iraq. That country’s fate seems to be in the hands of 10 unelected people -- the Iraq Study Group. No one knows what the ISG will recommend, but The New York Times reports that it may set a timetable for the withdrawal of a large number of American troops. That, however, isn’t what commanders on the ground say they want.

To those military leaders, things seem worse over here than they do in the actual war zone. “When I come to Washington, I feel despair. When I’m in Iraq with my commanders, when I talk to our soldiers, when I talk to the Iraqi leadership, they are not despairing,” Gen. John Abizaid, commander of all American forces in the Middle East, recently told a Senate committee. “I think we can win this fight. I think we are winning this fight,” Abizaid added at Harvard.

Recall that just last year, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., insisted that only people with military experience should give military advice. “I like guys who got five deferments and [have] never been there and send people to war, and then don’t like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done,” Murtha said sarcastically, poking fun at President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

But according to their Wikipedia entries, only four of the ten ISG members have any military experience. Even so, “I think there is fear that anything they say will seem like they are etched in stone tablets,” an anonymous “senior American diplomat” told the Times on Nov. 27. “It’s going to be hard for the president to argue that a group this distinguished, and this bipartisan, has got it wrong.”

Thus the Iraq debate comes full circle. Military experience matters, until it doesn’t. The only question is: If the Iraq Study Group recommends a retreat from Iraq, will its members be called “ChickenDoves?”