Presidential Candidates Silent on Military Spending

One issue that has not really been addressed in any of the presidential debates nor the media coverage of the elections is the US military budget. William Hartung, director of the Arms Trade Resource Center, addresses this issue in an article he wrote for Foreign Policy in Focus. Hartung writes:

“One issue that will not be discussed in tonight’s presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is our nation’s burgeoning military budget. Earlier this month, the Bush administration announced a proposed military budget of $614 billion, not counting the full cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This represents the highest level of spending since World War II, even though our most dangerous adversary is a dispersed terrorist network measured in the tens of thousands, not a nuclear-armed Soviet Union whose armed forces were measured in the millions.

If Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen have their way, these massive levels of spending will continue even after the end of the war in Iraq, with a “floor” on military spending of 4% of our Gross Domestic Product.

Not only have the major presidential candidates been largely silent on these record expenditures, but they want to increase them. Barack Obama has said we will probably need to “bump up” the military budget in a new administration, and both he and Hillary Clinton have committed themselves to increasing the size of the armed forces by tens of thousands of troops. On the Republican side of the aisle, John McCain and Mike Huckabee are looking to spend even more than their Democratic counterparts.”

In looking on the websites of the four main candidates still in the race from both the Republican and Democratic Parties, only Mike Huckabee clearly states that he would increase US military spending:

“Having a sizeable standing army actually makes it less likely that we’ll have to use it. So I will increase the defense budget. We have to be ready to fight both conventional and unconventional wars against both state and non-state enemies. Right now we spend about 3.9% of our GDP on defense, while we spent about 6% in 1986 under President Reagan. I would return to that 6% level. I believe we can do this without raising taxes. I will limit increases in other discretionary spending and rely on the normal increase in federal tax revenue that is generated annually as Americans’ incomes rise.”

John McCain talks about the need to reform military spending, but doesn’t mention the budget specifically. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama address the military budget on their campaign websites.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, as of the last campaign finance reporting, Hillary Clinton leads all candidates in donations from the defense industry, followed by John McCain and Barack Obama.

Huckabee Speaks in Grand Rapids

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On Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee spoke at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. Huckabee, whose Iowa victory was seen as a “surprise” by many in the corporate media, delivered a rightwing populist speech that appealed directly to voters in Michigan who are experiencing discontent over the state of Michigan’s economy. Unlike McCain and Romney–both of whom spoke within the past week in Grand Rapids–Huckabee went to great lengths to make himself appeal to those experiencing economic uncertainty in their lives.

Huckabee began by articulating what he believes are core Republican principles and contrasting his respect and adherence to those principles to what is being offered by candidates such as Mitt Romney and John McCain. Huckabee said that while those candidates have out spent and out organized him, he has attracted people who have not voted before. According to Huckabee, his constituents are people who believe that the United States needs to have “a better direction” but that unlike the “change” promised by the Democratic candidates–and to a lesser extent his fellow Republicans–he outlined his core priorities of lower taxes, secure borders, and trade policies that do not cost US jobs. He also contrasted himself with other Republicans by stating that unlike politicians who promise to “listen” to their voters’ opposition to gay marriage and abortion, he will do something about those issues.

He then moved into a portion of his speech that was tailored specifically for voters in Michigan. Like the other Republicans who have spoken in Michigan, Huckabee recognized the situation that Michigan is in and the severe economic challenges facing the state. He argued that Michigan is where it is economically because politicians have made choices that have “left Michigan behind.” Specifically, he talked about how Michigan is losing jobs to Mexico and the Middle East, although he cited no specifics about how or why this is happening. He also appealed to the state’s sense of history, asserting that Michigan has a proud history of automobile manufacturing. Beyond highlighting this historical fact, Huckabee argued that the automobile industry has been critical to the United States. He said that United States “owes Michigan for its freedom” because of its contributions to World War II and that because Michigan helped “save America, it is time for America to save Michigan.”

This sense of nostalgia and a longing for a United States in which ordinary Americans were able to achieve middle class success was a central theme of Huckabee’s speech. He spoke at great length about how many people in the United States are now having to buy the cheapest food, driving to buy the gas that is two cents cheaper, and clipping coupons just to get by. While they are perhaps somewhat simplistic metaphors, they do highlight in an easy-to-understand way that many Americans are struggling. He argued that he understands this and that those in the United States are facing economic difficulties need a president that reminds them of “the guy they work with, not the guy that laid them off.” Much of this discussion–which was surprisingly class-conscious for a Republican–was interspersed with nostalgia for the “traditional” American family, with Huckabee talking about the importance of religion and families raising kids rather than the government.

Huckabee criticized the Republican Party for falling out of step with ordinary Americans. He said that the Party has placed its existence before the future and survival of the country, something that he promised he would not do. Huckabee accused other Republicans of saying that the economy is doing well because they listen to the CEOs rather than talking to the workers who are in many cases not doing well.

Huckabee said that there is wide support for traditional Republican values that are consistent with the “American Dream” that he outlined in his speech. For Huckabee, the so-called “American Dream” is not wanting something “outrageous,” but rather just a better life for their families. To do this, he said that there are several key areas in which there must be action, including lowering taxes (he advocated a so-called “fair tax” that would eliminate the IRS and all taxes and replace them with a national sales tax), protecting US jobs, and strengthening the military. He said that if the United States wants to be a free nation, it needs to be able to feed itself, fuel itself, and fight for itself. To those ends, Huckabee discussed wanting to end foreign dependency on oil and food as well as strengthening the weapons manufacturing system in the US.

Overall, Huckabee’s speech was well-received by the audience, and it was easy to believe that it might resonate well with Michigan. Unlike the recent speeches by McCain and Romney, Huckabee seemed sincere and genuine in his efforts to convince the audience that he truly cares about Michigan. Moreover, he was successfully able to cultivate a rightwing populism that could appeal to those living in the United States who have largely given up on the political process. For those on the left–whether they are “progressives,” Democrats, or whatever–there is much to be learned by Huckabee’s approach. He is clearly addressing issues–such as trade and the economy–that need to be addressed and doing so through a personal lens that resonates with people. It is the job of the left to figure out why Huckabee’s words have appeal and articulate solutions to these issues. Huckabee would be vulnerable on these points–particularly with his “fair tax” plan–but to be vulnerable there will need to be a clearly articulated strategy for appealing to the sort of basic concerns that he is raising.

Huckabee Coming to Grand Rapids

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Following appearances in Grand Rapids yesterday by Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney, Republican candidate Mike Huckabee will be visiting Grand Rapids on Saturday. Huckabee will be speaking in downtown at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel. The Republicans are taking Michigan’s January 15 primary seriously and are campaigning heavily across Michigan.

Huckabee, who had what many pundits considered a “surprise” victory in Iowa, has a taken a number of controversial positions on a variety of issues. Huckabee has campaigned aggressively to gain the support of the religious right, many of which have been noted by the blog Right Wing Watch. Not surprisingly, Huckabee’s efforts to appeal to the religious right have drawn considerable scrutiny, including past statements in which he said that the job of a woman is to graciously submit in marriage and that homosexuality is comprable to necrophilia. On immigration, Huckabee has drawn the support of the prominent anti-immigrant group the Minutemen.

Media Mouse will be covering his appearance on Saturday, we’ll let you know what he says.