By Patricia H Kushlis
Now that the “non-essential” parts of the government have returned to work can we please move on to repair the untold financial damage –estimated as much or more than $24 billion - and personal hardships (a recent poll showed 44% of American families said they were adversely affected by the shutdown: the rest of us on the sidelines were just appalled) caused by the 2013 reenactment of the rebel South rises again only to get squashed (again)?
And can we please forgo another embarrassing round of two year old temper tantrums staged in front of the world media in less than four months’ time by publicity seeking hounds in the Senate and House? Obama 1 – Cruz – 0 by the way.
Meanwhile, would the scions of the Grand Old Party (GOP) please figure out how to compete in elections without caving in to an outlier hard right movement that strategically burst onto the scene prior to the 2010 elections garbed in 18th century dress especially designed for Fox News prime time?
Here’s one – among many - fundamental dilemmas the GOP needs to address: Corporate interests and its Republican populist rural America supporters do not make a healthy or even a sensible mix. Corporations are established to make money for their owners and stock holders. Populist America does not have the spare change to invest in corporations and hence to partake of the corporate bounty.
So where’s the convergence of interests?
I’ve seen numerous charts and correlations depicting the strengths of the Tea Party in the US. Its core is in the Confederate South, mostly in rural areas, and it is far more attractive to aging white male marginally educated voters who dominate those and other largely rural regions of the country. But I think that there is at least one other related yet important factor.
The Missing Stats
What I’m missing is a correlation between Tea Party supporters, military veterans and our outsized defense budget but I’ll bet that relationship exists. Look, for example, outside the South at the Tea Party’s inordinate strength in Colorado Springs – the home of the Air Force Academy and, by the way, the Evangelical Christians who surround and infiltrate the academy at the nation’s expense.
It’s rather like looking at the statistics that demonstrate the strong correlation between high cancer rates and the preponderance of oil and gas refineries in certain areas – think northern New Jersey and Houston, Texas as for instances.
Since the US abolished the draft in 1973, it has relied upon inducements to recruit enlistees into the military. Many noncoms come from poor, rural districts. The perks include multiple death-do-us part veterans’ benefits which are particularly attractive to America’s have-nots. Health care, travel, technical and other training not to mention special, advantageous buying privileges at well stocked military PXs and Commissaries at home and abroad come as part of this package. A “lifer” can also receive a pension after 20 years of service – an age young enough to begin a second career and many, to their credit, do.
The untold secret is that someone who serves or has successfully served in the US military does not need the Affordable Care Act because he, or she, already receives health care through US government funded Veterans Hospitals. The problem is - not every American has done so or is capable of doing so, and hence is ineligible for the equivalent of the US military’s brand of socialized medicine.
The fact that the uniformed US military was exempt from the recent government shutdown is just another case in point. Their supporters have tremendous clout in Congress. Congress kept the Pentagon’s doors open and the uniformed military on the job. This exemption to the shutdown was cloaked in great patriotic fervor and love of country but, seems to me that it rested primarily on personal self-interest. Support for an engorged military is where populist America and parts of corporate America –the military-industrial complex to be specific – have interests which intersect in what has become a counter-productive and expensive brew for the country to shoulder.
But does the US still need such a large and costly Cold War strength military to protect its national security interests? Do we need to have an expensive overly militarized border with Mexico? Does the border on the American side between Arizona and Chihuahua need to look like the Fulda Gap pre-1991?
Shouldn’t, in short, America be dealing with a good portion of its public debt burden by revamping the way it conducts its business abroad? About 20 per cent of the US budget goes to military spending after all.
At the very least, shouldn’t universal health care that results in a healthier and hence more productive population also be seen as part and parcel of this nation’s fundamental national security?
A new national security strategy might be a good idea
Moreover, shouldn’t we be upgrading and revamping our diplomatic tools and coming together to develop a coherent and affordable national security strategy for the post 9/11 era? There’s a terrific article in the most recent Foreign Service Journal by Ambassador Ted McNamara which provides the rationale and points to a roadmap for the development of such a strategy. It’s entitled “Rebalancing National Security Policy After Afghanistan and Iraq”, October 2013, pp. 33-35. It should be required reading for every member of Congress and the NSC.
Diplomacy is, after all, the usual way nations conduct business with each other. Sending in today’s equivalent of the cavalry is not. Besides, military invasions in particular (see my Oct 16 post on black swans' unforeseen effects on history) too often result in unforeseen repercussions that set off dangerous chain reactions we can neither predict nor contain and that make indelible imprints on the course of history.