Time to Pony Up

Progressives forced more than a dozen U.S. Senators to support universal healthcare. It’s time we force them to gut the Pentagon.

The trillion-dollar F-35 Lighting fighter jet, courtesy of our friends over at Lockheed Martin. (Heath Cajading/Flicker)

Since the Cold War, defense spending has been a wellspring of counterfactuals for American progressives. “If we didn’t give the Pentagon so much money,” casual leftie thinking goes, “we could have so many nice things!” The $695.9 billion defense spending bill passed by the Senate on Monday has proliferated these kinds of arguments. An email sent yesterday by the Democratic Socialists of America in support of Medicare for All makes a point about how “it costs less to provide health care for 285,000 Americans than it does to build a single B-2 bomber,” while Alex Emmons’ recent article in The Intercept notes how the $82.5 billion increase in defense spending passed by the Senate is more than enough to pay for the federal government’s share of making public colleges and universities tuition-free.

All of these arguments are some version of that cheesy quote about the Air Force holding a bake sale. They’re fodder for liberal-left Facebook posts, tweets, and even slightly-misleading memes. But as cliche as it may be, progressives should continue to point out the federal government’s hypocrisy. Our bloated military budget is the largest financial impediment to universal healthcare and tuition-free public college education, and any other social welfare program we hope to implement in the future. There’s no way around it: Unless we force the Congress to gut the Pentagon, there’s no chance to implement a secure and fully-funded social welfare state.

There’s no question that the Pentagon needs less money. In 2016, the United States spent more on defense than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Japan, Germany, South Korea, Italy, and the United Kingdom combined, according to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think tank that tracks and analyzes global military spending. Put another way, the United States accounted for more than a third of global defense spending last year.

Source: SIPRI.

That’s not even taking into account all forms of U.S. military spending. As reported by William D. Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, an advocacy think tank, other military projects — such as our nuclear weapons program under the Department of Energy ($20 billion), the Department of Homeland Security ($50 billion), and the Veterans Administration ($186 billion) — push the United States’ total military budget to more than $1 trillion a year. Maybe we should ask 21 Savage to make a hook about all those zeros to get peoples’ attention.

Taming our defense spending would surely be a tough political battle. Our country has an expensive love affair with militarism that’s proven hard to break in the past. But as the fight for universal healthcare shows that this is a time for bold moves. Much of the country is ready for a progressive change. We should old our message accordingly. Ridiculously expensive programs — like the $1 trillion fighter jet, courtesy of Lockheed Martin, or the thousands of tanks collecting dust in California ad infinitum — are prime targets for progressive criticism. It’s going to take a concerted effort from progressives, liberals, and anti-war libertarians to bring an end to special interests dictating defense policy, challenge the culture of militarism, and successfully convince enough people that military might puts us in harms way.

In her new book, Hillary Clinton, quoting a Facebook post sent to her by a friend, complains that Bernie Sanders’ campaign pledges for universal healthcare and tuition-free public college education were akin to promising a pony for every American. It’s time we force the Congress to pony up, fund the programs we desperately need, and gut the Pentagon to do it.