Monday, November 20, 2006

You heard it here first: Charles Rangel, the draft, and the Hegelian dialectic

It seems to me that Representative Charles Rangel's suggestion to reintroduce the draft should get some sort of prize for cynical ploys in Congress. Granted, he's got a lot of competition, but this one is designed to offend almost everyone, including the vast majority of his fellow Democrats, and even Rangel doesn't think for a moment that his proposal has a chance of passing.

Whether or not he's serious about the actual institution of an actual draft, Rangel certainly has been serious about suggesting such a thing. He did it back in January of 2003, to a resounding defeat--and, interestingly enough, Rangel was one of the defeaters: he voted against his own bill.

Those Republicans and Independents who turned on the Republican Congress this past election and either stayed home from the polls or voted for Democrats in protest may be rethinking just a bit when they learn that Rangel is going to be chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee. But the moving finger has writ.

And now it's deja vu all over again, especially if Rangel has his way. Paraphrasing one of my personal heroes, Groucho Marx, Rangel said "you bet your life" when asked yesterday on "Face the Nation" if he would renew his call for a draft.

What's motivating Rangel, besides the desire for publicity? He says he thinks a draft would make future administrations more wary of going to war in the first place; no doubt he's studied the Vietnam years and knows that the war protests were at least partly fueled by the understandable self-interest of the youth of America, who were reluctant to be drafted into a far-off war that seemed both unwinnable and strategically unnecessary. But Rangel also says he wants the army to be more socioeconomically even-handed; he believes it's the poor who are exploited by the present system.

Of course, Rangel is ignoring the evidence that indicates the composition of today's armed forces do not at all correspond to his vision (see this, for example.) Perception is all, after all. Not to mention the fact that the highly specialized nature of today's military does not lend itself to a draft.

Even among his constituents, many seem to regard Rangel as a sort of buffoon or even the enemy:

Along 125th Street in New York City on Sunday, Rangel's draft plan was met mostly with derision.

"What, he was smoking pot or something?" said 58-year-old James Brown [
no; not this James Brown].

"He doesn't represent the people of Harlem if he's for the draft," Neil Davis, 48, said.

But I don't think Rangel is dumb. In fact, he may be extremely smart. Certainly, he's about to become a great deal more powerful when he ascends to his new chairmanship. And it occurs to me, attempting to drag some hazy facts from the dim reaches of my college memory (an era in my life that grows further and further away even as I write this), it seems to me that Rangel may be one of the few people on earth who understands the concept of the Hegelian dialectic.

Yes, you read me right: the Hegelian dialectic. As I recall, it's one of those things where you go in one direction in order to end up in the opposite one by causing some sort of outraged reaction and backlash--but, as I said, my recollection is a trifle dim (the dialectic hasn't come up too often in my daily life of the past few decades). So I decided to Google it.

And immediately fell into a deep morass of obfuscation. You take a look if you like; I'm weary. It reminds me of just why I decided not to become a philosophy major: impenetrability. Perhaps my interpretation of the dialectic is wrong; if so, I can count on you readers to set me straight.

But if--as I suspect--Charles Rangel understands and is operationalizing all of this, he's got some heavy-duty intellectual chops to go with his heavy-duty audacity.

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