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The Hero of the Day

Paul Jacob

The following observations about the integrity of a true advocate of freedom as opposed to the loutish cynicism of a typical career politician are excerpted from a May 15, 2000 column by Steve Stephens that appeared in The Columbus Dispatch.

* * *

Ten years after Kent State, young activists were going through their own crises of conscience.

In my case, conscience lost.

The number 61-0911892-4 represents both my Selective Service identification and my biggest act of political cowardice.

I could plead youth. In the fall of 1980, I was preparing for my sophomore year at Ohio State University, but I knew even then that draft registration—especially in peacetime—was the ultimate manifestation of the supremacy of government over the individual, a dangerous and potentially disastrous policy that aligned my country with such utopias as the Soviet Union and apartheid South Africa.

Registration had just been reinstituted, and hundreds of thousands of young men ignored the call, through principle or simple ignorance.

By registering, I would aid and abet every idiocy I opposed. War was very unlikely, and so was prosecution—if I kept my mouth shut. Still, I lined up at the post office—dutifully as a mule lines up for the plow—and signed.

Not everyone was so docile.

Paul Jacob did not sign or shut up.

Today, Jacob is director of U.S. Term Limits, a nonpartisan organization pushing mandatory early retirement for professional politicians. In the early 1980s, Jacob was an activist on the run from the Reagan Justice Department, popping up throughout the country to speak against registration and for individualism.

I sheltered Jacob in my campus apartment for a couple of nights when he passed through Columbus on some libertarian quest or another, but that's as close as I came to civil disobedience.

Eventually, the feds caught up with Jacob, who served five months in jail in 1984. (Whenever I start to feel soft-hearted toward Reagan, I think about Jacob's prison term.)

Now Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash., as part of his re-election campaign, is bashing Jacob and his organization.

Six years ago, when he unseated term-limits poster-child and House Speaker Tom Foley, Nethercutt pledged to serve only three terms, which now are nearly up.

You can guess the rest.

Despite his promise, Nethercutt has decided Congress can't do without him. So U.S. Term Limits started an aggressive ad campaign to point out the congress-weasel's hypocrisy.

In return, Nethercutt has sponsored radio ads attacking Jacob as a "convicted felon."

"There were 13 of us who were prosecuted'' for publicly resisting registration, Jacob recalled. "Whether someone agrees or disagrees with the politics, anyone can see we fought this program at great personal risk.''

Criminal prosecution for resisting registration ended in 1987, Jacob said. "The prosecutions backfired,'' he said. "Most of the public thought it was outrageous to go after people who were scholars and, in every other facet of life, exemplary citizens."

But the Clinton administration still hounds resisters, denying federal jobs, benefits and student loans to young men who don't register and encouraging state penalties. In Ohio, those who haven't registered are even charged higher out-of-state tuition at state universities. (Another tidbit from Selective Service: Women who once were men must register. Men who once were women do not.)

Jacob is proud to defend his actions of 20 years ago, although he'd rather debate term limits with Nethercutt.

"Nethercutt is attacking me for having the character and integrity he lacks."

—Steve Stephens



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