My theory about the end of the draft and its relationship to political polarization

On a previous post, we got into a discussion of the importance of character in political candidates. (I have come over time to believe that it is paramount, to the point of paying far less attention to policy proposals by comparison. And of course, as you know, I am positively inimical to ideologies.)

We had a good discussion, and achieved some degree of synthesis. Along the way to that, Phillip happened to mention the fact that many in politics use military service or the lack thereof as a shorthand marker for character. This is certainly true. But as we discussed the relationship of such service to character, I went on a tangent… and decided it would be worth a separate post, as follows…

I believe that our politics started becoming dysfunctional, in the ways that I decry (hyperpartisanship, adamant refusal to listen to, much less work with, the “other side”), when we ended the draft.

Before that, you didn’t find many men (most officeholders today are men, and it was more true then) who had not spent at least a portion of their youth in the military. That certainly exposed them to having to work with all sorts of people from different backgrounds (as Phillip noted here), but it did something else: it forged them into something larger than those differences.

The WWII generation in particular may have had its political differences, but those guys understood that as a country, we all share interests. They may have been (in fact, were) liberals or conservatives or Northerners or Southerners or what have you, but they understood that they were Americans first. For those who served after the war, when the military was on the cutting edge of integration, it helped give black and white a sense of shared identity as well. (Indeed the shared experience of the war, even though it was in segregated units, helped lay the groundwork for the next generation’s gains toward social justice.)

As the first wave of young men who had NOT served (starting with those who were of an age to have served, but had not, such as Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich) arrived in the top echelons of political power in the country, they brought with them a phenomenon that we hadn’t seen among their elders… a tendency to see fellow Americans who disagreed with them politically as the OTHER, even as “the enemy,” and a practically dehumanized enemy — one that must be opposed at all costs.

That said, Bill Clinton does deserve credit for rising above that new partisanship in many cases (welfare reform, deficit reduction) in order to accomplish things. And Newt Gingrich often worked with him to accomplish such goals.

But below them, among the young guys coming up in politics — the ones hustling around statehouses and working in campaigns — there was a generation rising that really could not think of the OTHER SIDE as someone to be communicated with, much less worked with.

I really believe that if those young guys had had the experience of being thrown together, outside of their communities, their cliques and their comfort zones, their heads shaved and put into uniforms, and required to work together in a disciplined manner toward common goals — THEY would be different, and consequently our politics would be different.

Mind you, I’m not saying we should reinstitute the draft in order to make our politics more civil (although there may be other reasons to have one). But I am saying that I believe today’s extreme polarization is in part an unintended function of that development in our history.

Maybe you consider the end of the draft to have been a good thing. What I’m asking you to do is consider that even good things can have unintended ill effects. The opposite is true as well. Y’all know how deeply opposed I am to abortion on demand. But it seems reasonable that it would have the effect claimed in Freakonomics of reducing crime over time (by instituting a sort of pre-emptive capital punishment of unwanted children, who are more likely than the wanted to become criminals). Just as it has had the undesirable effect in parts of Asia of drastically reducing the number of females in society.

Good actions have good and bad consequences; so do bad ones. It’s a complicated world.

67 thoughts on “My theory about the end of the draft and its relationship to political polarization

  1. Doug Ross

    A better theory: the increase in partisanship is directly related to the increase in the amount of money controlled by the government.

    It only SEEMS more partisan now because of all the media/internet outlets and all the political consultants (the guys you hang out with) whose are driven by greed to fan the flames of partisanship to increase fundraising from the ignorant voters on both sides.

    It’s all about the Benjamins.

  2. Brad

    That would make sense if you said “the increase in the amount of money in campaigns.” The amount in government bears no relationship to the phenomenon you’re describing. Whipping up anger toward the opposition in order to raise money is entirely a private sector phenomenon, as candidates and causes collect funds in order to market themselves to compete in the political marketplace.

    Here’s another way to describe it: Political polarization is almost certainly a function of the hiring of staff by campaigns and causes. Such staff have to both justify their existence and generate their salaries by exaggerating the virtues of their side, and to an even greater extent demonizing the opposition.

    When it’s just the politician himself, he can afford to sit down and reason with people of another party. But the mechanism that elects him can’t allow that, for the sake of its own survival.

  3. Brad

    In any case, before we get on a tangent about the size of government or other ideological concepts, could we please have a discussion of the proposition I’ve presented?

  4. Tim

    The amount of money controlled by the government was highest during WWII, if you look at it as a command economy financed with massive (way more than now) public debt. If that was the case, then, per the supposition, it should have been the most partisan period. I don’t think there is a strong argument that it was.

    The dynamics of that war left us with a massive, and -for the first time- on-call military, necessary to manage a world where atomic annihilation was for the first time in human history actually conceivable.

    Personally, I think that the draft is a good idea, for the reasons that Brad posits. Although, to be honest, I was not high on the idea when it was my time.

    One reason I agree with Brad is a consideration of armies in the past, including the Greeks, Romans and Late Antique period (really, any period… Trafalgar Square), where the elites were personally and physically responsible for the military, they tended to be stronger. Once they began relying on mercenaries, declines in that particular civilization tend to follow. Skin in the game.

  5. Karen McLeod

    I’m inclined to agree with you (for a change :)). In my more draconian moments I would (if I were appointed ‘high goddess’) institute a non military draft. It would require that after high school everyone who was physically/mentally capable of performing some useful job give 2 years to civic duty, which could include military duty if that was the person’s choice. These folks would have to live and work together. It does not have to be physically demanding, if the person has skills and/or limitations, but it would have to be communal–everyone would know that the others were performing needed jobs. Draconian, yes; but you don’t want to hear my response to parents of children whom they cannot support. OK, Bud, have a field day.

  6. Doug Ross

    Kennedy: Military man. Good character or not?

    LBJ: Military man. Good character or not?

    Nixon: Military man. Good character or not?

    The draft didn’t create character just as the absence of the draft didn’t create partisanship. People run for political office to gain power. That power is related to the ability to influence the appropriation of tax dollars. The more dollars to appropriate, the higher the stakes to gain office.

    Your premise is based on your own personal bias toward the military. As you stated, the fact that the military can self-select people based on their already developed character, it might look like there is a correlation. But then if the military created character, we wouldn’t have had William Calley or Abu Graib or the chain of command that lied about Pat Tillman’s death.

  7. Greg Jones

    About the time the draft ended (which I just missed), those still in school were experiencing (or more accurately had experienced) desegregation, which should have served some of the same purpose. At least in middle class Southern public schools.

  8. bud

    One word to refute this theory: W

    There was a man who sort of served in the military, albeit in a somewhat convuluted fashion. And he ended up as the worst president since WW II. Not sure you have much of case here. Obama is a pretty good president and never served in the military. And let’s face it psuedo-maverick John McCain has become about as partisan as anyone in congress. Not sure that fits in with this narrative.

    Brad you just need to accept what is obvious to the rest of us – your view of the military and it’s virtues is colored by your upbringing as a military brat.

  9. Bart

    On one point I am in agreement. When a diverse group of men and women come together under the authority of one leader or succession of leaders the way the military is structured, they learn to work together to achieve a common goal, no matter what their political affiliation may or may not be.

    However, as the attitude toward polarization has become the norm in identity politics, the same people who will work their collective butts off to achieve a common goal at work, at church, or a civic group will not work together in the political arena unless the goal remains a common one and unfortunately, political goals are generally identified with one ideology or the other. Once one ventures into identity politics or becomes a virtual slave to a particular ideology, intellect and pragmatism will go out the window.

    I have heard the comment made all too often that Obama is thoughtful, pragmatic, and approaches problems and issues intelligently, not in a kneejerk fashion. Well, that may be true but on the other side, their supporters believe the same about their leaders. No one can accuse George Will of not being intelligent, pragmatic, and thoughtful in his approach to a problem or issue. He just looks at it from the conservative side of the aisle. And as each side is wont to do, they refuse to acknowledge that point and accuse the other side of being idiots, intolerant, and about any other negative connotation possible when stating their opinions.

    I don’t know if any of the other regulars read the comments section after an article or column but I do. As a form of entertainment, depending on the subject, I will read as many comments as possible and it is revealing to me that the diversity of comments and no one will back off their point of view no matter how compelling an argument either for or against may be presented. Maybe it is the cloak of anonymity on the internet and not direct confrontation with an adversary or engaging in a face to face debate that produces a hardened position.

    We tend to be more amenable to changing our minds when we meet and exchange ideas with people we like. With the ones we don’t like, hell would freeze over before we would consider changing our minds.

    The current gaggle of candidates for the nomination to represent Republicans in the upcoming presidential election is a perfect example of a group of unqualified people trying to persuade the public to vote for them by ripping out the throats of their competitors with some really vicious attacks. They are supposed to be representing the best the Republicans can offer. What a joke. On the other hand, I don’t find the Democrats faring much better when it comes to negative politicing.

    In 2008, before and after it come down to Obama and Clinton, they were just as nasty but the nastiness was contained a little better and presented in a more “intelligent” manner. The red phone ringing at 3:00 am was a very good attack but making the connection to being unqualified was a little more cerebral than simply calling Obama an unqualified neophyte and foreign policy and political lighweight. Most certainly not a James Carville line.

  10. Ralph Hightower


    You may have hit on the root cause of “Us vs Them”.

    Take Senator Jim Demint. Please. Anyway, this hyperpartisan, “If I don’t get my way, I’m stopping the government!”, baby according to the bio on his Senate web page, and also Wikipedia, didn’t serve in the military.

  11. tired old man

    Universal conscription also brings several other “sharings.”

    One is the sharing of sacrifice — of time, and youthful hormones, if nothing else. This, in turn, builds a bon homme that dissolves distinctions.

    Second, is the sharing of subservience to a higher calling/need/duty than one’s pleasure or economic progress.

    Each of these sharings is conducive to adopting an attitude of compromise, of seeking win-wins instead of some rather impossible and do-or-die ideological ideals.

    If you get that back, if you begin to think of the common good, well, then issues of whether government is too big or spends too much become increasingly irrelevent to the larger acceptance that government is a collective response to social needs and goals, and the true issue is one of effectiveness.

  12. Brad

    I’m very gratified that a number of you see some merit in my proposition.

    Bud and Doug, y’all haven’t focused on what I’m saying. This isn’t about this or that person’s character — the discussion of character came up on the previous post. As I explained, this is a total digression from that subject, inspired by what Phillip said earlier about military service.

    This isn’t about individuals’ character — W or JFK or LBJ or Nixon. It’s about what happens in the space BETWEEN people. It’s about relationships. The headline explains it — this is a theory “about the end of the draft and its relationship to political polarization.”

    Bud and Doug also bring up my supposed “personal bias toward the military.” Again, you’re missing the point. As I explained, this is about discussing whether a particular cause is related to a particular effect. To help you understand that, I pointed to a theory that something I regard as abhorrent (abortion) had a particular positive side effect (reduction in crime). My proposition is meant to be seen in that sort of light. It should have absolutely nothing to do with your own “bias” for or against the military.

    As I type that, I realize I’m getting close to something that goes to the core of what I try to communicate on this blog, particularly as I exhort people to reject the simplistic “thinking” encouraged by the political parties — that if you “like” this side, you always agree with it, and are unable to see its flaws… and you are obligated to DISlike the other side, and never see, much less acknowledge its virtues.

    What I am exhorting people to do is to see something as it is (or explain why it isn’t), regardless of one’s own likes and dislikes.

    Our public discussions in this country are caught in a trap in which people don’t feel entitled to step out of the deep ruts of thinking one of two ways — as though there were only two ways to think. We’re not required to pick a side and speak only in talking points. We can pick up an idea, and dispassionately turn it over and look at it from its infinite number vantage points.

    Now I’m getting onto a tangent from the tangent…

  13. bud

    Brad you just haven’t made a case for this. I suggest people in college who share a joint and a few laughs meet folks of all types of backgrounds and they learn to get along in much the same way you suggest they do in the military. You use the military as your pet human-relations laboratory because that is your frame of reference. I only suggest you cannot see the world through the lens of others world experiences yet feel free to criticize other worldview. The military experience is neither more nor less a vehicle for creating a cooperative political environment than anything else.

  14. Brad

    I agree with Karen that some sort of national service would be a good thing, and that accommodations should be made for those unable to meet physical standards — everyone can contribute something. I think that would go a long way toward fostering the kind of sense that we have a shared responsibility that supersedes ideology.

    I don’t think it would be quite the same as the shared military experience, though — the crucible would be less intense.

    Even for those who did their military service and never saw combat — which would be the great majority of those who served between 1940 and 1973 — there is a presumption, at least in the early stages of training, that that is what soldiers are preparing for. Therefore the training is oriented toward not only personal physical preparedness, but more importantly, toward learning to depend on each other for their very lives.

    I suspect there’s something about this in young males that seeks to produce an experience like that, and form such bonds, in the absence of something like military training. I see it in the way people talk about football, for instance.

    But more than that — and this goes to my original point — I see it in the way politics is conducted by the generations that have come of age since the draft ended.

    For young male partisans, politics IS war. Political opponents ARE the enemy, and exist to be destroyed. People like Jim DeMint, mentioned above, are particularly given to the use of metaphors from warfare, such as “keep your powder dry,” and “Waterloo.”

    They have never been inculcated with the notion that other Americans who look at the world differently are NOT the enemy. If they’d spent some time in the hairier parts of Afghanistan with James Smith and Bill Connor (to name a Democrat and a Republican from SC who served in combat together) confronting the prospect of destruction at the hands of the Taliban, they’d have a clearer and more realistic notion of what an “enemy” is. But lacking that, they see the other party as the enemy to be, at least figuratively, annihilated.

  15. Silence

    Adding a bunch of conscripted hooligans to either the military or some sort of national service corps would be neither cost-effective, nor productive for our nation. The bureaucracy required to manage the proposed moronic multitudes would make C. Northcote Parkinson blush, and the cost would make the current federal budget look miniscule by comparison. It’s possibly the worst idea I’ve ever heard, and I live in Columbia, South Carolina.

  16. bud

    I believe that our politics started becoming dysfunctional, in the ways that I decry (hyperpartisanship, adamant refusal to listen to, much less work with, the “other side”), when we ended the draft.

    I got so caught up in the whole draft thing that I completely missed the real inaccuracy in this statement. It’s not a question of hyperpartisanship across the board, it’s simply that the GOP has gone crazy. The democrats, especially the president, have reached out to the other side many times, especially on the issue of raising the debt ceiling, only to be rebuffed by the likes of Jim DeMint and the recently deceased Andrew Breibart. Before we can correct a problem we have to state it correctly. Now that I have let’s seek a solution.

  17. Brad

    Again… Silence, I’m not advocating a return to the draft (at least, not in this instance). I’m simply correlating the end of a modicum of civility in politics with the end of the draft, and suggesting a cause-and-effect relationship.

  18. Juan Caruso

    Commentary on Brad’s theory of “the end of the draft and its relationship to political polarization” has been largely interesting, although staged in a manner that glosses over a major impact of the draft’s “end”.

    Even the EEOC cannot square current requirements for male only draft registration (five years imprisonment or a $250,000 fine for failure), can it? The U.S. draft-age ratio of Males to Females is 1:1, by the way.

    That said, there will be no way to resort to a draft under existing labor laws that would not allow female workplace seniority to accrue while male careers are disrupted for military service and women volunteers were not simultaneously banned from combat roles:
    [“since women are excluded from combat service by statute or military policy, men and women are simply not similarly situated for purposes of a draft or registration for a draft, and Congress’ decision to authorize the registration of only men therefore does not violate the Due Process Clause,”- Rostker v. Goldberg (1981)]

    The natural, mutually agreed political consequence of the draft’s end therefore, is some form of universal service.

    For the record, while not opposed to a military draft, I am opposed to women in combat.

  19. Steven Davis II

    “I suggest people in college who share a joint and a few laughs meet folks of all types of backgrounds and they learn to get along in much the same way you suggest they do in the military.”

    bud – Don’t you have a son in the Navy? Would you give the same advice to him? Maybe mail him a joint and ask him to see if his CPO would like to step outside and share it with him.

  20. bud

    Steven, we all have life experiences and we few the world through the prism of those life experiences. The coal miner in Kentucky has a very different world view from Mitt Romney and his work with Bain Capital. Is it too much to ask that we all respect the world view of others and acknowledge that where someone comes from has a huge impact on how they think problems should be solved? Brad has a very military-centric approach to dealing with problems whereas I don’t. So who’s right? Perhaps neither of us or both of us depending on how the issue is framed. Personally I don’t feel like any one philosophy has all the answers. Which is one of the great things about being and American since that seems to be a prevailing attitude. Just don’t tell Rick Santorum. He might throw up.

  21. `Kathryn Fenner

    I think you can have universal public service by ALL 18-19 year olds–doesn’t have to be military to get the effects you seek, and since I surely would never have passed a draft physical much less the rigors of boot camp, why not offer useful alternatives for the physically retarded, as well as those opposed philosophically or religiously to the military?

  22. Silence

    @ Brad “I agree with Karen that some sort of national service would be a good thing, and that accommodations should be made for those unable to meet physical standards — everyone can contribute something.” – Brad Warthen, March 2, 2012 at 12:06 pm.
    Sure sounded like you were advocating the idea of national service.

  23. Karen McLeod

    Bud, while college get-togethers are/were great fun, the folks there are not a highly diverse group; their families’ average income is higher than most. Yes, some are on scholarship, but the average would be higher. Their average ambition and intelligence is also higher. There may be a few who start who don’t care, or who are unable to do the work, but they get dropped fairly fast. It takes some kind of overarching grouping (like the military) to ensure that you have a true mixture. That sort of situation ensures that a person meets, and has to deal with, people very different from him/herself. It doesn’t necessarily make a person better, but it does teach that there are many different ways of thinking, and that different life experiences lead to different outlooks. One can hope that such an experience leads one to the realization that extreme political polarization is simply, laughably, a lie.

  24. Doug Ross

    Sorry, but when I hear terms like tolerance, compromise, and compassion, I don’t associate them with military service.

    The trumped up notion of some group of men known as “The Greatest Generation” is fantasy. Post-WWII was the period where we saw the rise of Joe McCarthy, racial intolerance in the South, and a desire to take wars TO other countries preemptively. Maybe I have my history wrong, but I don’t think it was ex-military men in the South leading the civil rights marches.

    Hard for me to accept that the path to becoming a non-partisan is through group-think training to kill other people.

  25. Brad


    Yes, Doug, you do have your history wrong.

    “Racial intolerance in the South” wasn’t something that developed after 1945. That would be some seriously profound revisionism.

    What happened was that, after the war, the institutions of intolerance were actually CHALLENGED, and thanks to the fact that an American consensus formed that Jim Crow and other forms of social injustice were WRONG — the first time ever that such a consensus formed in this country — things changed. In response to that change, you saw some pretty nasty backlashes. But those involved in the backlash were on the losing side of history, and increasingly marginalized by a society that had finally decided to put this ugly chapter behind it.

    I think you’ll find that pretty much any reputable historian you check with will back me up on this.

  26. Steven Davis II

    “why not offer useful alternatives for the physically retarded”

    Kathryn, didn’t you have a meltdown over that word a few months ago when I used it?

  27. Tim

    There were a lot of ex-military men in the South leading the efforts for change. They were called black veterans, who, after seeing how differently Europeans treated them, and that they had fought and died for freedoms they did not enjoy back home, well, they weren’t going back to the plantation and the good old days.

  28. Doug Ross

    So you are saying the people driving the change were those who had been drafted into military service? I want to be clear on that. And the people resisting change were not people who had been drafted into military service. You are proposing that the act of being drafted changed people. I don’t believe it.

  29. Brad

    Absolutely, Tim. And the response of the overall society — which by then was led mostly by veterans — was “Yes, you’re right. The status quo is unjust. We’ll change it.”

    Of course we can make too much of this. The civil rights movement, for instance, had a significant cadre of people who were too young to have served in the war. (But there’s no doubt that men who had put their lives on the line for the country wanted to be treated as full citizens, and the war had helped open their eyes to that possibility.)

    Nor do I want to get off on a separate discussion of the influence of the war on society at large in the next couple of decades. Because that’s not the premise of this post. The premise is that the advent of a particular sort of hyperpartisanship, the sort in which there is no presumption of shared citizenry or legitimacy across ideological lines, coincided with the rise to power of post-draft generation. And that there is a cause-and-effect relationship.

    That’s all I’m trying to say here.

  30. Doug Ross


    Ah, I see now. It was being drafted and serving that taught the blacks that made them realize they were being oppressed. Had they not served, they would have stood side-by-side with their white brothers to prevent themselves from being treated as equals.

    How about the Southern whites who were drafted? Did they not go to the same places in Europe to learn racial tolerance?

    Brad’s theory is full of holes. In order to prove it, he would have to show statistical proof (as the Freakanomics guys did). He has none. You can’t measure “partisanship”. All we have is more media outlets to push the partisan message. He’d have us pretend that people like FDR, JFK, Nixon didn’t exist in environments that were just as partisan. They were. There just wasn’t cable TV and internet available to fan the flames.

  31. Doug Ross

    The most partisan people I know are over age 50. Do you really think it is young people who haven’t been exposed to the draft who are driving the partisanship? Rush Limbaugh – draft dodger.

    It’s old people watching Fox and MSNBC who are the biggest consumers of the partisan crap. You know, the ones who lived through THE BIG ONE with all the rest of the greatest generation.

    Now explain how Ron Paul gets the largest percentage of young voters (under 30) in all the primaries. Shouldn’t these people be hardened partisans because they didn’t have the opportunity to be be forced to kill people? Why would they support someone who is the-anti partisan? Sorry, your theory is bogus. It falls apart upon examination.

  32. Brad

    Doug, it’s rather obvious that you don’t have much face time with people involved in politics. Moreover, you haven’t had constant interactions with political professionals — hundreds of them — over the course of the last few decades.

    I have. I’ve watched what has happened since the 1970s. It’s gotten worse every year. And the younger they are, the less they can imagine the world being any other way.

    And I’m sorry for you that not everything that is true can be represented on a spreadsheet. I’m fine with that — grateful for it, even, because I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where numbers were the only kinds of facts. But it’s a stumbling-block for you — and for Bud, too, which is why, of all my longtime correspondents, you and he tend to disagree with me most vehemently, and most often.

    If you want Freakonomics, go there. It’s fascinating. But it’s not what you’re going to find here. Here, you’re just going to get the best observations I can offer you, based on the information available to me and the experiences I’ve had — plus the insights provided by the readers who choose to share. For some, that’s enough. For others, it won’t be.

  33. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Steven– Sweetie, you don’t know from meltdown if you think that was a meltdown.

    In fact, I am quite literal when I say that I am physically retarded. just as I am three standard deviations above normal when it comes to academic intelligence, when it comes to physical skills, I am probably three below. Poor Phillip can attest to my amazing lack of coordination!

  34. `Kathryn Fenner

    A lot of historians trace the beginning of the Civil Rights movement to the service of African Americans in WWII. How can you keep them down in the ghetto after they’ve seen gay Paree?

  35. Silence

    @ Kathryn, Brad,
    mandatory national service, military or otherwise is a rotten idea.

    1) You are delaying the entry of bright and hardworking youngsters into the (real) workforce. If they go on to be highly salaried, that delay could cost them dearly over the course of their adult life. That’s effectively a tax on their future earnings that could run into the $100k+ category.

    2) Those less than brilliant, or less than hardworking will likely be less than productive while in national service. Therefore, society will be subsidizing them by paying them more than they are worth.

    Based on the latest decennial census, there are about 4.2 million people born each year in the US, so we’ll use that as a proxy for hitting “service age” for our calculation. To put that in perspective, the US military has about 1.5 million active duty members, and about an equal number of reserve component members.
    Those 3 million individuals cost the taxpayer $157 billion dollars annually, or about 23% of the entire military budget. That’s about $52k/person, by my calculation. If you think that a national service corps, one that paid the conscripts something, provided for their housing and healthcare, and had them actually moving about, doing activities would be cheaper than $52k/person, allow me to introduce you to our Federal Government.

    You’d have legions of overpaid, underqualified SES and GS employees running the show, coupled with some sort of local administration to get some modicum of productivity out of the conscripts. They’d be sent out to perform nonproductive tasks, and do them poorly. They’d loaf, smoke and joke, get into trouble and cause general disarray.

    This isn’t the 1930’s. The CCC worked, in part, because people wanted to work and needed to work. Nowadays, they don’t. The CCC or the military taught them a trade, but things are a lot more complicated and different now.

    The military doesn’t want a bunch of short term enlistees because they aren’t useful. You can’t learn the maintenance of a complex machine (say an F-16 or a M1A1) so quickly, in fact, the military has to bring in experts to do all but the most routine maintenance tasks. So what would you do with a bunch of one or two year types? The service doesn’t need a bunch of one-stripers to sling chow, clean toilets, mow grass or sweep floors because it’s cheaper and more efficient to contract those functions out!

    National service would have the same problem. By the time you’d trained people in something useful (to them) and productive (for you) it would be time for them to go, and you’d still not have gotten any work out of them. There’d be little practical ROI, and the current system of colleges and tech schools already do an adequate job of training people for future employment.

    What would the national service do with all of the high school dropouts? Would they be excused? Would we put them in remedial classes? It’s suprising, but a lot of girls (women) get pregnant before they are 18. Who’s going to watch the babies? Are we to pay for their child care while they are off digging ditches or pushing stretchers around? Still not cost effective.

    Yes, maybe we are already paying for the bottom of the barrel anyhow, but at least they aren’t out f’ing things up for the rest of us (for the most part.)

    I sit back and await your thoughts.

  36. Doug Ross

    Are people under 30 hyper-partisan or not? If not, how does that sync with your theory?

  37. Nick Nielsen

    I’m with Brad and Karen on this: two years mandatory national service, to be completed before reaching the age of 25.

    It doesn’t have to be military. It doesn’t have to be skilled labor. It could be with a modern-day CCC, VISTA, the Surgeon General’s office, National Park Service, similar state agencies, or even a day care for the children of single parents performing national serve. Room and board provided, pay scale is minimum wage.

    First, it reinforces the idea that we, as members of society, owe something to that society.

    Second, it exposes us to different experiences and different people, allowing us to learn that we are more alike than different.

    Finally, it teaches us to work with others to achieve a common goal: the improvement of the society we live in.

  38. Bart

    “Personally I don’t feel like any one philosophy has all the answers.”….bud

    I just threw up in my mouth!


  39. `Kathryn Fenner

    You don’t have to pay conscripts much, one. Two, there are more important things in life than total earnings. Having lived adjacent to universities most of my adult life, I see a lot of kids who need to grow up before they can truly take advantage of the educational opportunities afforded them–a huge percent drop out without a degree, but with loans to repay, even in this age of lottery-funded scholarships (how is that fair?). I was a studious, relatively mature student, and barely drank at all, although it was legal,yet I see now how I did not take anything like full advantage of my time in university.

    We put everyone, dropouts included, in national service, and we require decent performance out of them–just as we did with conscripts in the past. It certainly would take a lot of the shine out of dropping out if you had to serve anyway.

    Lots of countries have national service, and make it work. Those two years make a huge difference at that age, and set up participants for future success. If nothing else, it’s training wheels for independent living–not taking recent high school grads directly from the helicopter parent pad to the wide wide world. There used to be dorms, with loco parentis rules, to perform this function, but the loosening of restrictions and supervision has lead to increasing rates of alcohol hospital admissions, and worse.

  40. Doug Ross

    All these “pie in the sky” fantasies about national service will never happen. Never. There are too many reasons why it can’t be done, won’t be done, and shouldn’t be done.

    1) Cost. Even at minimum wage, it would cost billions of dollars to implement. You don’t just pay the kids, you have to pay all the infrastructure to support them. Think TSA times 100.

    2) Exceptions. Just like the draft, there will be rich kids who would never see a moment of service. A quick call from a big donor to a politician will get an exception in a second. And let’s not talk about all the high school athletes in the major sports who would be kept off the field for two years. Let’s see if Steve Spurrier would support having his top recruits go off for two years. Never.

    3) Oversight. What happens when a kid decides not to do the work? Does he get “fired” and can then go home and find a job? How do you plan to compel kids to work hard?

    4) Location. Are you planning to pay for these kids to live somewhere outside their homes? Or will there just be busy work created within driving distance?

    5) Colleges. How will colleges fill their freshman classes when this is implemented? You can’t just stagger it because then those who don’t get to go to college will be filing lawsuits.

    This is pure nanny-state, feel-goodism. It’s one of those “ideas” that falls apart the minute you start trying to talk about the details of how you would actually do it… just like “single payer”. Easy to say, impossible to do.

  41. Silence

    @ Kathryn – “and we require decent performance out of them–just as we did with conscripts in the past.” – I’ve read that in WWII, fewer than 30% of troops in combat actually fired their weapons. Volunteers tend to perform better than conscripts, in any case. Volunteers also tend to outperform Gamecocks, Bulldogs, Commodores, Rebels, War Eagles, Tigers, Elephants and Gators.

  42. Silence

    We’ve already got the Job Corps… speaking of the Job Corps, bing the name “Christa Pike”….

  43. `Kathryn Fenner

    Maybe they won’t work as hard as volunteers–heck, they probably won’t, but something is a lot better than nothing. As far as where they bunk, we dealt with that back in WWII when suddenly lots of troops were needed. Supervision–teacher’s aides, for example, could be supervised by the teachers. Park rangers can supervise park workers. Highway patrols supervise highway litter picker uppers, etc.
    Penalties–if you were going to the brig for bad behavior, you’d be less likely to engage in it. Make examples of a few…
    The rich and powerful get passes all the time, but you do the best you can to close loopholes. Even if some people get away, you still benefit the rest.
    Freshman classes: Universities can deal with it for a year or two.

    Look: it’s been done successfully elsewhere. Why not here?

    We can find the money–let’s tax Wall Street!

  44. Silence

    I’m promoting using the word “Bing” as a generic term for “internet search” instead of the other, more widely used term.
    Full disclosure: Long MSFT.

  45. bud

    This idea of universal service just smacks way too much of big brother indoctrination. If you really believe in freedom you don’t mandate any kind of service for the national “good”. It’s just a form of indentured servitude that we don’t need. If kids want to help the world they can join the peace corp. If they want to shoot at people in lands far away for no good purpose they can join the army and given our recent demented approach to foreign policy they’ll get their chance soon enough. How does it help to mandate those things?

  46. Silence

    @ Kathryn – to be honest, I personally think that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some sort of mandatory national service. I honestly don’t think they could/would be put to productive ends though, which is my major objection. In order for a program to work, both the nation and the participants would need to derive benefit from it.
    We already have several programs though that do offer alternative service, they are all just voluntary, some are even private:
    Vistacorps, NCCC, Americorps, Job Corps, Peace Corps, etc.

    I would support that the full rights of citizenry (vote, hold public office, etc.) only be bestowed on folks who had completed voluntary national service.
    “Bing” the term: “Johnny Rico”

  47. `Kathryn Fenner

    I think the participants benefit from participating because of the discipline, the training wheels aspect, the getting out of your insular school district and away from helicopter parents (or the opposite type). I think society benefits from improved adolescent behavior and for a long time afterwards–just as Brad cites the vets’ example. The actual service is nothing to sneeze at, either.

    And yes, Steven, this country can use a lot more social and welfare programs.

  48. Silence

    @ Brad – Hence the recommendation to Bing “Johnny Rico” the main character in “Starship Troopers”. I also recommend avoiding the movie version at all costs.

    PS – I don’t really believe that service=citizenship like in the book, but it is an interesting concept.

  49. Brad

    I had completely forgotten the character’s name! Which is weird for me.

    Normally, I remember every character in every novel I’ve read… or at least I did when I was young. One of my favorite examples of my ridiculously trivia-oriented memory is that I can name all 12 of The Dirty Dozen in the novel (NOT the movie) by E. M. Nathanson. Quickly, without looking:
    Roscoe Lever
    Glenn Gilpin
    Calvin Ezra Smith
    Myron O’Dell
    Archer Maggot
    Samson Posey
    Luis Jimenez
    Napoleon White
    Joe Wladislaw
    Victor Franko
    Ken Sawyer

    … dang, I’m forgetting one. Maybe I’m starting to use my brain more productively. Or maybe I’m just losing it.

    Maybe, since I read that Heinlein novel later in life, it didn’t make the same impression. I’m pretty sure I could still ace a pop quiz on Stranger In A Strange Land, which I read in high school.

  50. Brad

    … those are all the IMPORTANT characters in the novel, anyway. Along with John Reisman. And Sgt. Bowren. And Master Sgt. Carl Morgan, the hangman. And Dr. Kinder…

  51. Doug Ross


    So how many 18 years olds can we sign you up to mentor for two years? 10? 20?

    Let’s play this out with a small scale example. Blythewood High School will have around 300 18 years olds graduate in June. There are probably another 100 dropouts.

    Where do they go? Give me an idea of where those 400 kids will be for the next two years? What about the girls with kids? Do they get exempted from service? What about those who are married? Will these kids get free healthcare?

    At minimum wage, the cost is $300/week times 52 weeks = $15K times 400 kids. We’re at $6 million dollars before you have even started adding any infrastructure costs. That’s one high school.

    If you even spend more than five minutes thinking about how this fantasy could be implemented, it is easy to see what an enormous waste it would be.

    And to achieve what? Some undefined, immeasurable, unattainable sense of shared sacrifice resulting in a Utopian society?

    This would collapse as quickly as the Twitter-verse could create the hashtag: “#hellnowewontgo”

  52. Doug Ross


    Still waiting for your explanation of how the under-30 crowd which cannot be described in any way, shape, or form as partisan or polarized. They voted for Obama and now vote for Ron Paul (if they vote at all which most don’t).

    Partisanship is an old man’s game. It’s about both sides making sure their slice of the government pie is the largest.

  53. Brad

    Doug, I haven’t answered you because your question doesn’t make sense. I’m talking about the people who are engaged in politics and you’re talking about voters — and not even all voters, but slices of the electorate.

    There’s no question that since the time I started covering politics, the candidates and the people involved in their campaigns have become more and more beholden to the notion of an either-or universe, and the demonization of the opposition has become more systematized as it has grown as an industry.

    The middle ground, among elected officials, has dwindled from a healthy dwelling place to a no-man’s-land, where politicians go at their own peril.

    The portion of the electorate that is fed up with the parties is growing. But none of the people who fit in that category (MY category) get elected to office. A few years ago, we actually had a couple of independents in our Legislature. Not now. And Joe Lieberman, as much as I like him, is an anomaly. He wouldn’t have gotten to be a big-enough name to run as an independent without the support of a party.

  54. Doug Ross

    Uh, but all these politicians who demonize the other side get voted into office, right? By voters, right? I mean, if those tactics didn’t work, then why else would they do it? Romney is going scorched earth and winning because of it.

    There have been and always will be polarized political processes. It’s been us-vs-them since the beginning of time. It has nothing to do with the draft or national service. It has to do with money.

    And let’s not forget that Vincent Sheheen’s campaign was solely about his opponent and not about him. He had no ideas, no passion, no leadership. He ran against Mark Sanford and Nikki Haley.

  55. Brad

    Yes, Doug, we know that’s what you think. But you’re wrong. If anything, Vincent failed to stress strongly enough how entirely unsuitable his opponent was for the office.

    Nothing he did or said stressed partisanship — it wasn’t in his interest to do so, in this red state. Meanwhile, Nikki’s campaign was pure off-the-shelf GOP talking points. Her campaign was all about Obama, and not about SC, or about the difference between her and her opponent, at all…

  56. Silence

    @ Brad – One solution to the polarization issue would be to abandon the current legislative system and replace it with proportional representation. That way, the greens could get their 5%, the center right/left some large number, the commies a few % and the libertarians some as well. You’d end up with a legislature that was more representative of the electorate’s views, but still got precious little done. It works for most of Europe….

  57. Silence

    @ Brad – Without looking… what was the name of the ship in Stranger in a Strange Land?

  58. Brad

    Arrgghhh! I can’t think of it! I want to say “Challenger.” Or something LIKE Challenger, such as “Intrepid.”

    I keep trying to construct a sentence in my head to trick myself into remembering, such as, “Van Tromp and Dr. Mahmoud and other members of the crew of the…,” without results.

    Wait, something is coming into focus… Was it “Envoy”? Or was that the earlier ship, the one that Michael Valentine Smith’s parents were on? His mother’s name was Mary Jane Lyle. She was the inventor of the Lyle Drive — although it hadn’t been developed yet. She left it on the drawing board, and it DID power the… arrrggghhhh!

    Of course, Smith wasn’t his real father, but why drag up old scandals after all this time?

    I’m not going to look. I’m going to keep thinking about it…

  59. Steven Davis II

    “And yes, Steven, this country can use a lot more social and welfare programs.”

    Only if “less is more”.

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