Politicians Exploiting Our Fears
It was soon after World War II that the United States found itself flush with victory and possessing essentially all the money in the world.
A war-weary nation was looking for a "peace dividend." But communism was about to overtake Eastern Europe. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic," an Iron Curtain was about to descend on Eastern Europe.
But our response was more than a moral question. It was a budgetary issue.
After sacrificing the blood of more than 400,000 American sons, mothers were requested to accept a perpetual "Cold War" draft. A new middle class whose members, just a decade before, picked fruit for slave wages to escape a midwestern dust bowl, was being asked to accept permanently high taxes without the excuse of actual war.
President Truman was in a quandary. How was he to get the approval of the American people for intervention in the anti-communist Greek civil war and become the superpower successor to a now-broke Great Britain, a nation that had turned its back on both Churchill and its empire?
But from this quandary came some advice from an unlikely source. Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg, an anti-Roosevelt, pre-war isolationist, had become convinced that America's new role in the world ought to be as an international superpower. So, as the president was considering how to sell the people on a permanent wartime economy, he suggested to Mr. Truman that he "scare the hell out of the American people."
Many believe that Vandenberg was the intellectual architect of American domestic and foreign policy for almost three-quarters of a century. The bipartisan effort of Truman and Vandenberg made a mockery of Roosevelt's warning that all we had to fear was "fear itself." "Fear" became "political capital."
For instance, in the 1950s, while the Russians had no intercontinental bombers and no aircraft carriers, at a time when the suborbital ballistic missile had not yet been invented, our nation trained children in atomic air raid drills. Fear of Soviet attack created a military industrial complex so pervasive that even the opposition of Republican President Eisenhower came too little, too late, and too ineffectively.
Now we are in a similar budgetary debate. Unfortu- nately, as in the 1940s, the resolve to spend is bipartisan. The Republicans, with a few exceptions like Ron Paul, want to stop the "sequester" of military spending, arguing that lowering of strategic readiness will turn America into a second-rate power.
Arguments have been made that it will cause the scrapping of everything from aircraft carriers to discount military food stores. Democrats want to avoid a similar sequester of domestic spending, arguing it will cause children to go hungry and diseases to run rampant.
In other words, it is not the need for missiles or the need for food stamps that is central to the debate on government spending. It is the fear of disaster that drives the entire budget. Democrats and Republicans are in agreement, not with Simpson and Bowles, but with Truman and Vandenberg: "Scare the hell out of the American people!"
Yet no great nation can continue to play a role as a superpower if it squanders its riches into debt. It does not matter whether the squander comes in the form of guns or butter. Uncontrolled spending is as dangerous to national security as al-Qaida, Iran or North Korea.
A nation that squanders its credit in relative peacetime will have a problem when and if real war requires greater use of that credit.
Both Republicans and Democrats will eventually try to compromise their sequester. By telling Americans that children will go hungry, Democrats will strip all meaningful domestic cuts from the plan for fiscal discipline.
In return, Republicans will tell the people that terrorists will roam freely in New York City if higher defense spending is not approved.
The result will be a greater bipartisan deficit based upon the power of fear.
This writer has often said that life is a game of poker. As such, it may be time to call the politicians' bluff. We can always borrow and spend later. For now, it is time to allow the spending cuts called the "sequester" to take place and scare the hell out of the politicians.
Robert M. Levy is chairman of the Moore County Republican Party. Contact him at Law52@prodigy.net.
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