It seems inevitable when I get into a conversation with a fellow American about political issues that the other party seeks to frame our discussion in terms of left and right, conservative or liberal, republican or democrat. I attempt over and over again to convince people that the so-called two party system that ravages our country serves one primary purpose: to give the illusion of democracy. We are told by pundits “on the left” and “on the right” that if only their side had control of government we could actually solve our problems, despite all historic evidence to the contrary. Like professional sports, politics is a venue for the public to vent its frustration and to divert our intellects away from the issues that really matter.
In making these points, I find that people tend to think I am encouraging apoliticism, i.e. encouraging people to disengage from the political process. This is not the case at all. The point that I am trying to make is that voting is simply the least you can do. I mean this in the most pejorative sense possible. Voting, particularly voting in an uninformed manner along party lines, is lazy and ineffective. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t vote, I mean that voting is not enough. Our nation is rapidly declining and in the interests of our own survival, comfort, and reputation in the world, we need to break out of the mental ghettos we have constructed for ourselves.
Consider deficit reduction. The national discussion on deficit reduction is an incoherent rambling mess, and that’s not an accident. It’s an incoherent rambling mess because the parties who profit and benefit from the subjugation of the working class (this is generally called the destruction of the middle class in the mainstream media) are very adept at keeping the discussion incoherent. Our two party system, and the attempt to use binary terms to describe complex multidimensional systems is a very successful divide and conquer strategy. So people “on the left” discuss about whether or not we should worry about deficits, while “people on the right” talk about the ruinous nature of the deficits and use it as an excuse to attack important social programs. One people on the lunatic fringes are actually talking about the real issues.
First of all, deficit spending during a recession in not necessarily a bad thing, and there’s plenty of historic evidence to back that up. On the other hand, the American national debt is a catastrophe waiting to happen, and everyone, regardless of your political ideology should be deeply concerned about it. But we aren’t approaching insolvency because of programs like medicaire, medicaid and social security. We are hopelessly in debt because of our insane and destructive empire. Among the political classes and intellectual elites, this empire is typically referred to as “American Hegemony”, and is taken by default as a good thing. There is little discussion about the desirability or ethics of American hegemony. In the mainstream media American hegemony isn’t discussed at all. When our military industrial complex and adventurism around the world is discussed, it is framed in terms of “national defense” which requires increasing grand levels of cognitive dissonance to maintain.
How much do we actually spend on empire? It’s not so easy to know , because much of the budget is hidden. Robert Higgs has broken down the outlays for fiscal year 2006 (under Republican guidance). For 2010 (under Democrat guidance) the figures are bigger. Spending on empire gets bigger and bigger regardless of whether we voted in a Democrat or a Republican. Here’s a breakdown by Robert Higgs of the Independant Institute (I’ve cut and pasted it here from an excellent article by Chalmers Johnson which you can find here).
Department of Defense: $499.4
Department of Energy (atomic weapons): $16.6
Department of State (foreign military aid): $25.3
Department of Veterans Affairs (treatment of wounded soldiers): $69.8
Department of Homeland Security (actual defense): $69.1
Department of Justice (1/3rd for the FBI): $1.9
Department of the Treasury (military retirements): $38.5
NASA (satellite launches): $7.6
Interest on war debts, 1916-present: $206.7
Grand total: 934.9, about a trillion dollars a year for American hegemony.
There are several important things to realize about “defense” spending. First of all, very little of it is really defensive. Most of it extremely agressive. When was the last time America used its military for defensive purposes (i.e. responding to an attack, or genuine threat of an attack)? I’m guessing WWII. Rather than spinning military spending by calling it defence spending, we would be better served by accurately characterising our spending as spending on empire, and defence spending (so Homeland security could legitimately be called defence spending, while budgets for stealth bombers could not). Empire spending increases the risk of terrorist attack by engendering hatred and ill will across the world. Empire spending takes money and expertise away from all other forms of spending, including defence, infrastructure, civilian side economic and technological development, and of course social programs.
Can we get this under control by voting along party lines? I encourage you to do your own research, but the answer is no. In fact those peaceniks and advocates of social justice among us should try to reach out and find common ground with the Tea Partyers out there to get real deficit reduction by starving the real beast of America: The military industrial complex. A member of President Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla) has recommended tha tthe DOD budget be frozen until it can pass comprehensive audits of all programs, agencies, and contractors. One of most positive contributions to the American political debate has been from Ron Paul, the arch libretarian member of Congress, who actively talks about American empire and the egregious, unaffordable system of bases we have all over the world (somewhere between 750 and a 1000 mini-cities of American military personnel and equipment), which only make us less safe by damaging American credibility and international goodwill. Raging leftist (and one of my personal heroes) Alan Grayson proposed a bill to force the Pentagon to conducts its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq solely on its existing budget, which is on the order of 500-600 Billion dollars -> roughly what the rest of the world combined spends on defence.
So fuck party politics, and fuck projecting your complex and informed world views onto a one-dimensional basis. Left and Right, a single line, does not form a complete basis for the discussion of political ideas. Pick one, or a few, concrete issues which are pressing and important. Learn as much as you can about those issues, and doggedly pursue repair of those issues. Be open to new ideas. Don’t disregard or denegrate the possible contributions of someone who has a different ideology than you do. Feel free however to ignore all the bloated egoes, dissemblers and opportunists in our political system. If someone is attacking people instead of discussing issues and solutions, chances are they are wasting your time. I propose American Imperialism as being one of the most pressing issues facing our nation, as it is either the source of, or a major contributor to, most the issues actively facing America today: Terrorism, our broken economy,our national debt, out failing educational system…