Most of the early polls show Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas running comfortably ahead of his likely Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, 57 percent to 43 percent in a recent matchup. O’Rourke is struggling to achieve some measure of name recognition, though many Democrats hope that he will be able to be the first Democratic senator from Texas in decades. O’Rourke is attempting to remedy that situation by offering a bill that will bring back the draft but with a twist.

ACTION for National Service Act

O’Rourke offered the ACTION for National Service Act in June 2017 in the House.

The bill would require all young people, no exceptions, to spend a year in service to the United States. The service could be in the military or in some kind of civilian program. People who complete a year of service will be able to obtain government assistance for college tuition and loan repayment and preferential treatment in government hiring.

The debate over national service

Ever since the selective service military draft was abolished in the early 70s, the idea of compulsory national service has been raised from time to time. The argument for national service is that spending a year would compel young people to “give back” to their country and impress upon them that citizenship consists of obligations beyond voting and demanding civil rights.

The year of service will be a learning experience and will produce better citizens, at least so the theory goes.

The argument against compulsory national service revolves around the idea that the federal government ought not to force people to do things that it feels are beneficial, whether they actually are or not. The government and the private sector offers numerous opportunities for volunteerism, from military service to charity work such as working at a food bank or a free clinic.

The practical argument against a massive program of compulsory service points out that such government programs are rarely efficient or cost effective. All sorts of opportunities exist for waste, fraud, and abuse. The question of how much practical work one will get out of untrained young people spending just a year of their lives exists as well.

O’Rourke’s idea is a recipe for a fiscal train wreck. It might also run afoul of the 13th Amendment that prohibits involuntary servitude, i.e., slavery.

The political aspects of O’Rourke’s idea may be a little iffy. Gallup recently found that a plurality of Americans, 49 percent, favor a program of compulsory national service but 57 percent of Americans under the age of 30 oppose the idea. The potential of the issue backfiring on O’Rourke is genuine, given Texas’ culture of independence and antipathy to big government.