Over the past months, Rangel has become one of the most vocal critics of the impending war with Iraq, advocating a draft without exemptions for all citizens ages 18 to 26—on the grounds that Washington policymakers may rethink their support for war if their own children are “in harm’s way.”
“A renewed draft will help bring greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war,” Rangel wrote in a Dec. 31 New York Times op-ed that launched his campaign.
Rangel also advocates reinstituting the draft to raise the issue of class—too many poor people, he says, do too much of the fighting and other service work for the United States.
Throughout his speech yesterday, he emphasized that war or no war, there needs to be more “shared sacrifice” in this country.
Rangel—a 17-term representative from Harlem who was one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus—is one of the most powerful members of Congress. He is also the ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee, which is widely considered the most powerful committee in the House.
Rangel has been delivering his unique pro-draft argument for more than a month now to various audiences.
But for the first time last night he faced a unique conflict in presenting his argument to a college campus, traditionally a hotbed of liberalism—but also a place where Americans would be hardest hit by Rangel’s proposed draft.
And he picked Harvard, which is so liberal that it has been called “the Kremlin by the Charles”—but, on the other hand, is also the traditional educational stomping ground for the children of Washington’s power elite.
Rangel said he was not concerned that the draft might threaten the accomplishments of disadvantaged students who had beat the odds by making it to Harvard.
“They would not be able to get to Harvard if it wasn’t for this great United States of America,” he said. “They should be the first to fight for the opportunity to go to Harvard.”
While he said that he hadn’t planned to win converts from yesterday’s speech, he was surprised at the lack of open dissent.
“I didn’t expect that people would rally and say they support the legislation,” he said.Rangel said in an interview after the speech, “Nobody felt strong enough against what I was saying to say they disagreed with me.”
Politics and Prose
The sharp-tongued representative took the Bush Administration to task in his speech last night for what he called its unilateral foreign policy.
“If this is an international problem, doesn’t it demand an international solution?” he asked.