You might expect the Value Voters Summit, a convention of socially conservative activists hosted by the Family Research Council, to lead with talk of God, Jesus, family values or other code words like life and the unborn.
But you would be wrong. Everyone knows that economic and fiscal concerns have trumped social issues among Republicans in the current election cycle. But what was notable about the morning program at the event in Washington, DC, on Friday was the programming emphasis and crowd enthusiasm for aggressive militarism.
House majority leader Eric Cantor ran through all the Republican buzzwords of the moment: “Obamacare” and taxes are bad, small business and a “culture of entrepreneurialism and competition” are good. The audience barely stirred.
There was scattered hissing for the invocation of the perfidious possibility of “taxpayer money for abortion” and Planned Parenthood.
But what brought the crowd to its feet was foreign policy. Cantor received thundering applause for saying, “We always have and should stand behind Israel.”
Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Cantor warned, “threatens not only Israel but the United States as well.” So, Cantor went on, “This time we must lead from the front.” Big applause ensued, although what exactly Cantor proposes to do to Iran and how exactly it would be more effective than the Obama administration’s Iran policy was completely unstated.
Cantor went on to invoke Christians whose rights are threatened in the Middle East and concluded to thunderous applause that we must “stand up to militant Islam.” Defending the rights of Christian minorities and standing up to a fascist ideology are good things. But Cantor offered no explanation of how his policies would do so differently or more successfully than President Obama’s. (If what Cantor wants is to kill Al Qaeda’s leaders, then Obama has been doing it, although Cantor churlishly neglected to give Obama his due for that.)
But successfully fighting our enemies isn’t actually what the Republican or conservative foreign policy is about. Rather than, it consists of shoveling more taxpayer money to the Defense Department and military contractors.
Immediately following Cantor’s speech, FRC Action’s president, Tony Perkins, moderated a panel with Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, and Lt. Gen. Benjamin Mixon. All inveighed against the gays serving openly in the military and the specter of military chaplains voluntarily performing civil union or same-sex marriage ceremonies. But they devoted just as much time to asserting that our national defense is threatened by potential budget cuts.
Sessions admitted that the Department of Defense baseline funding has risen by 3 percent annually since 2008. That, it should be noted, does not include the cost of Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, nor national security operations carried out by other departments. But, he complained, spending on food stamps and public schools has gone up more. The facts that more people qualify for food stamps during a recession, and that state and local governments require more federal funding for schools when their tax receipts dip just to avoid painful cuts to education spending, is apparently lost on this budget expert.
According to Sessions, a self-described cheapskate, claims about our runaway defense spending are incorrect. He proves this by misleadingly citing our defense spending as a proportion of the total economy rather than comparing it to inflation or the rest of the budget, or any other country’s defense spending. We are supposed to be getting richer but not less secure. Especially since the end of the cold war, it stands to reason that the proportion of gross domestic product we spend on defense should decrease.
Perkins guessed, correctly that Sessions would agree with the assertion that the cuts to national security spending “Doesn’t go in with a scalpel, it goes in with a hatchet to military expenditures.” Perkins incorrectly labeled the spending cuts as “military” when it would not, in fact, need to all come from the Pentagon.
“We will have to reduce the capabilities of executing defense responsibilities if the cuts were to go into effect,” warned Sessions. What responsibilities are those? Sessions did not mention that we have 500,000 service members stationed in more than 150 foreign countries, since presumably it might occur to the audience that such an imperial presence is excessive. Instead he vaguely raised the specter of an Asian Communist menace. China is on the rise he noted, and “its values are not consistent with our values.” For example, China has “a secular philosophy that leads to mass abortions.”
Let’s grant that for the sake of argument. Is Sessions’s contention that we should prepare to fight a war with China? The country has nuclear weapons, 1.4 billion people, and it owns much of our foreign debt. On the other hand, we already outspend them several times over on defense.
Sessions claims, incorrectly, that “North Korea and Iran have nuclear weapons.” Iran doesn’t, and even if it did, it’s not clear what buying more tanks would do about that. But the point isn’t to keep America safe. It’s to convince devout Christians, who are understandably wary of Islamism and communism, that they need to cut spending on feeding and educating poor children to buy weapons.