Still, it’s not as though cultural warriors lack fodder, what with the never-ending battles over abortion and guns, not to mention the transgender potty crisis currently roiling the land. Why waste time and outrage over who should be eligible for a draft that—let’s be serious—ain’t ever coming back?
I decided to put this question to the folks in Senator Mike Lee’s office, given that the Utah Republican has gone so far as to introduce legislation aimed at barring women from the draft. I figured that Lee, a solid social conservative and Tea Party darling, could give me a thorough account of both the evil of forcing women to the front lines and the insanity of government kowtowing to political correctness.
But, as it turns out, Lee’s opposition stems not so much from his culturally conservative impulses as his libertarian ones. Specifically, the senator has become convinced that the push to register every young American for the draft, women included, is in fact a stalking horse for Big Government’s push to establish a system of compulsory national service.
The senator is deadly serious about this. In his most recent weekly “Issue in Focus” email to constituents, Lee noted that the soon-to-be-debated defense authorization bill currently includes two provisions that, “when considered together, could have far reaching and long lasting effects outside of the national security context.” One is the move (championed by Senator John McCain) to open the draft to women. The other aims to create a “National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service” that would “consider methods to increase participation in military, national, and public service in order to address national security and other public service needs of the nation.” Lee connects the dots, warning: “Some in Congress have been pushing for mandatory public service for decades, and this commission, coupled with the introduction of women into the draft, would be the perfect way to lay the groundwork for such a policy.” He pledges: “I will be looking for ways to strip both of these ill-considered policies” from the bill.
For Lee, this is not about gender roles. Sure, the senator wants to prevent your beloved daughters from being shipped off to some Middle Eastern hellhole to battle ISIS. But he also wants to ensure that your sons cannot be conscripted into building houses for poor folks in Appalachia or teaching remedial math on Chicago’s South Side.
At this point, some of you may feel moved to ask: What’s so bad about national service? Isn’t it one of those virtuous, bipartisan issues that appeals to liberals’ communitarianism and conservatives’ patriotism alike?
Yes, it is, insists AnnMaura Connolly, president of Voices for National Service, which works to increase federal funding for service programs. “There are tons of Republicans who are active supporters,” she assures me, pointing to members in both the House (Hal Rogers, Daniel Webster, Tom Cole, Luke Messer) and Senate (Orin Hatch, Kelly Ayotte, John McCain). President George W. Bush was a big advocate, she reminds me, “as was 41.” (Former W. speechwriter turned columnist Michael Gerson is forever trumpeting the cause.) If anything, she says, “support among Republicans continues to grow. We saw in this last round of appropriations’ battles an increase for Americorps in a Republican-led Congress.”