Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Guns v. butter

By Carl

Apropos of
my column yesterday about denial and America comes this story:

President Obama's address Tuesday to a joint session of Congress will have a heavy emphasis on the economy and will try to strike an optimistic tone, aides said.

That's a sign Obama has heard the criticism, including from former President Clinton, that he needs to mix sober talk with an upbeat bottom line.

"He believes we will meet these challenges and lift ourselves out of this" recession, one top aide said. "He will say, 'The best days are ahead of us.'"

First, you'll note that this isn't being called a "State Of The Union" address. That will likely come later this year, once the stimulus package has begun to work its way through the economy (figure in May).

More important, comparisons have been drawn between Obama's recent doom-and-gloom speechifying and Jimmy Carter's, which has given a talking point to the mainstream media, beholden as it is to conservative talking points, owned as it is by conservative white men.

A President walks a difficult line, to be sure, which is why we will accept little white lies from him (or her). He can't appear too optimistic or too pessimistic.

Let's take Jimmy Carter as an example. Here was a man who truly was as honest as a President could afford to be. He spoke plainly about the need to conserve energy (the man was a visionary) and to analyze the country's mood, speaking to the general malaise we were suffering.

And got hammered for both.

In Obama's case, his emphasis on looking forward will be a tonic against the whining, mewling little children on the right wing, who talk about deficits and debt as if it was something they suddenly discovered after 8 years of Bush spending us into oblivion. After all, what's a trillion dollars to help your countrymen, when you spent at least that much on a nation 6,000 miles away that you will never visit populated by people who don't particularly like you much.

That's not to say that the deficit is nothing important... even if Dick Cheney said we could safely ignore it. It is, and Obama is correct to address the need to tighten belts.

There are, however, precious few places where one can cut spending much and have a measurable effect on the deficit as a whole. In 2008, entitlement spending, apart from Social Security and Medicare -- both of which are funded off-budget under their own trust funds, but which represent roughly 43% of tax revenues, about $1.3 trillion -- is roughly 27%, of which about 2/5 is mandatory. Interest on outstanding debt is another 10% (and rising).

Leaving defense spending of 21% (absent the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which have always been unbudgeted, until the Obama administration).

So factor in the defense budget of $626 billion, plus another $500 billion for the wars, and you see that defense spending rivals and might even exceed the budget for any other individual entitlement.

US defense spending is twice the combined defense spending of the rest of NATO. The US spends roughly 47% of the world's defense spending, meaning that if we avoid pissing the entire world off, we have more weapons than we could possibly need. Ever. Right now.

That's not to say that we should stop finding more and better means of defending ourselves. It just means that we can make do with what we have for a while, and do not need shiny new aircraft carriers every year or spanking new planes every quarter.

It means, in short, making Federal spending fall more into line with the actual revenues received from the various states. Fortunately, most of the governors who lined up against the stimulus package have been from states who net more in Federal spending than they contribute in taxes!

They don't want the money? Fine. No problem. We'll leave that money on the table, and cut defense spending, close bases and cancel contracts. I got no problem with that.

We are, quite literally, at a place where we can and must choose butter over guns. You can't eat a bullet, unless you intend, you know...

(Cross-posted to
Simply Left Behind.)

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