Populist Except for Pentagon

Katrina vanden Heuvel says there’s an emerging populist agenda. Of course populist agendas tend to emerge in times of demobilization for election distraction — that is to say, in moments when huge political party and NGO resources are being dumped into focusing attention on a distant election instead of on the crises and work at hand. Witness all the efforts to get Hillary Clinton, and not Barack Obama, to oppose the TPP.

And of course the agendas don’t actually emerge. There’s nothing new about them. Millions of us have favored a living wage and free education and breaking up the banking monopolies for years. The point of having such ideas “emerge” is to create reservoirs of patience for not getting them and not even demanding them, but rather diverting one’s interest into cheerleading for future saviors who will later treat campaign promises like, well, campaign promises.

But what interests me about what’s “emerging” is what’s missing from it, even in the rhetoric. Vanden Heuvel links to six reports or platform statements. Each deals with economics, the public budget, spending and investment priorities. Virtually absent from them all, by some coincidence, is any mention of military spending, despite its taking up a majority of the discretionary spending budget every year, and despite its swallowing far more wealth than goes to the billionaires who are so rightly upbraided for hoarding it so immorally.

Five of the six populist agendas propose nothing related to military spending. It might as well not exist. One of them includes as number 11 of its 12 points: “We should reduce military budgets and properly support humanitarian programs.”

Was that so hard? It used to be the norm in Democratic Party platform promises. Where has it gone too to? The other five organizations will not attack the sixth with sharp critiques for including this, of course. Their preferred tactic is silence.

The new normal seems to be PEP. Usually PEP means Progressive Except for Palestine (we all know people who are generally against murdering babies but not when Israel does it). But I’m using PEP to mean Populist Except for the Pentagon.

If you don’t want to take the time to watch the video of Bernie Sanders’ 12 proposals, here’s his list:

1. major investment in infrastructure
2. reverse climate change
3. new economic models, no more huge tax breaks to corporations, but support for worker-owned coops
4. Employee Free Choice Act (remember that?)
5. make minimum wage a living wage
6. pay equity for women
7. end NAFTA and CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China
8. affordable college
9. break up the Wall Street banks
10. Medicare for all – single payer healthcare
11. expand Social Security
12. progressive taxation

All wonderful stuff. Some of it quite courageous outside-the-acceptable stuff. But what do you spend on reversing climate change? And do you also keep spending on the single biggest contributor to climate change, namely the military? What do you invest in infrastructure? It’s not as though Sanders doesn’t know about the trade-offs. In between listing items 1 and 2, he blames “the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq” for costing $3 trillion. He says he wants infrastructure instead of wars. But routine “base” military spending is $1.3 trillion or so each and every year. It’s been far more in recent years than all the recent wars, and it generates the wars as Eisenhower warned it would. It also erodes the economy, as the studies of U-Mass Amherst document. The same dollars moved to infrastructure would produce many more jobs and better paying ones. Why not propose moving some money? Why not include it in the list of proposals?

In Sanders’ case, I think he’s partly a true believer in militarism. He wants good wars instead of bad wars (whatever that means) despite the belief in “good wars” requiring ongoing military spending. And partly, I think, he comes at it from a deep habit of “supporting” the troops and veterans for both sincere and calculating reasons. He’s also a PEP in the Palestine sense.

But people will be thrilled just to hear Sanders mention “the bad Bush-Cheney war,” when their standard is set by such war hawks as Hillary Clinton, whose love for war, rather than some collective fit of amnesia, explains the absence of the military from most of the emerging populist agendas.

We should be clear that this degeneration of the Democratic Party platform does not represent a shift in public attitudes, but rather an increase in the corruption of the political system. No polls support this. Many campaign funders do.