How did an issue like the draft — one that neither President George W. Bush nor Senator John Kerry has publicly supported — become one of the most talked-about issues among young voters?
In recent months, rumors have circulated that Bush was planning to reinstate the military draft, more than 30 years after it was discontinued. Internet activism — including an e-mail from Rock the Vote with the ominous exclamation, "You have been drafted!" — television and print ads, and growing concern that the U.S. military is stretched too thin helped to perpetuate the rumors.
L. Paul Bremer, former administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, has said that "we never had enough troops on the ground." And at a press conference in Iowa on October 15, Kerry said that if Bush is re-elected, there is "great potential of a draft."
But if both Bush and Kerry have vehemently denied plans to reinstate the military draft if elected, how has the rumor gained so much momentum?
Rock the Vote's e-mail, which was sent out in September, included a fake draft card with the recipient's name and the signature of Donald Rumsfeld. Though it was essentially an e-card that told the recipient to report for duty at "A polling place near you" on November 2, the e-mail suggested to young voters that a major election issue — of major concern to them — was going largely unaddressed by the media.
Indeed, proposals to reinstate the draft have been made by both Republicans and Democrats. New York Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel introduced legislation into Congress in January 2003 to reinstitute the draft, stating (after the U.S. invaded Iraq) that the military was stretched too thin and that the draft would unite the rich and poor in shared service. And during a session of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this year, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam veteran, suggested reinstating the draft for similar reasons.
The ensuing uproar from all of these rumors prompted Congress to rush a vote on Rangel's nearly 2-year-old proposal early this month — and to overwhelmingly defeat it (see "Republicans Vote Down Draft Bill In Hopes Of Ending Rumors").
Yet a recent poll conducted by the National Annenberg Election Survey indicated that 51 percent of the young people polled said they believe that Bush, if re-elected, will re-establish the draft system (see "Despite Defeat Of Draft Bill, Issue Refuses To Die").
In response, Bush has addressed the rumor publicly: once during the second debate, and also on the campaign trail. During a speech in Ohio on Wednesday, he quickly quashed any proposed return of the draft: "There will be no draft," he said. "The all-volunteer army will remain an all-volunteer army."
The candidates' rhetoric has done little to quell concerns: According to a recent Choose or Lose survey, 45 percent of the young people polled said that the issue of the draft is one of the most important in the coming election.