"If we lose the budget battle," the president said the other day, "then I believe we'll consign ourselves and our children to the tyranny of a government that respects no boundaries and knows no limit."
It's a nice turn of phrase, but the president has it exactly wrong. If he wins the battle for the budget he proposed this week, we will have consigned ourselves to tyranny: the tyranny of a military machine whose voracity knows no limit and whose concern is not the national defense but its own insatiable appetite. And it will have happened with the president's own support. Maybe it's even his idea. The question whose answer eludes me is: Why?
I have never had that big a problem understanding Ronald Reagan. Even when he proposed programs and policies that were, in my view, the exact opposite of what America needed, I thought I understood him. I understood his notion that the long-term harm of public assistance (for the able-bodied) outweighs the short-term good it does for the poor; his belief that public education needs a new direction (if not federal dollars); his idea that making American business strong was the best way to make America strong, and even his fascination with "Star Wars" military technology.
This time I don't understand him at all. I cannot infer from his budget presentation, or deduce from anything he has said publicly, any reason why he would want to subordinate the interests of almost every concern of America -- the old, the poor, the college-age, the family farm, the environment, medical research -- to the interest of the Pentagon.
I accept that there has long been in the American right wing a sense that the Commies are out to get us, and that the measure of their resolve in the face of that threat has been the zeal with which we move to strengthen the military. But usually the buildups have been accompanied by a clearly articulated (if frequently erroneous) enunciation of the threat: a place in the world where the communists are moving and must be headed off; an inference, backed by intelligence leaks, that the communists plan such a move; a Russian threat to our vital interests somewhere in the world, or at the very least, a weakness in our own military capability that might tempt the communists into some rashness or other.
This time, we are given details of neither the threat nor the specific military means (aside from the off-in-the- future "Star Wars") of combating it. The proposal is to give the Pentagon not more and better weapons but more money. Even while asking the rest of us to undertake the sacrifices necessary to reduce the national deficit, the president is demanding that we fork over to the military more money than would be saved if all his proposed cuts were enacted.
Why, absent a definable threat, would the president insist on handing the Pentagon a blank check? Is it to frighten the Russians, or to trick them into bankruptcy when they try to match our military spending? Is it because he believes they are already ahead of us and increasing their lead? Does he believe the Russians plan to attack us as soon as their military lead reaches a certain level? Or does he, truly believing that they are the "Evil Empire," have sinister plans of his own?
I can accept that four years ago he believed (though hardly anyone else did) that he could simultaneously cut taxes and increase military spending without creating fiscal disaster. But now that he knows better, why does he persist in further fattening the Pentagon? What is the threat that makes it reasonable to postpone the balanced budget he claims to want? Why does he insist on submitting us to the tyranny of the military "that respects no boundaries and knows no limit"?
Why? Why? Why?