Bernie And The Nukes

During a press conference on Tuesday, President Obama made some critical remarks about Donald Trump and the entire field of GOP presidential candidates. As usual, he spoke the truth, saying essentially that the contenders are anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-science, and he made the obvious point that such rhetoric is a problem for “foreign observers,” especially the denial of climate change:

I think that’s troubling to the international community, since the science is unequivocal. And the other countries around the world, they kind of count on the United States being on the side of science and reason and common sense, because they know that if the United States does not act on big problems in smart ways, nobody will.

It is that last part, that part about the United States acting on big problems in smart ways, that should have led Mr. Obama to also honestly show his hand regarding the current race on the Democratic side and tell his Democratic supporters where he stands on the Bernie-Hillary contest. If you have followed the matter closely, it isn’t hard to figure out that he believes Hillary Clinton gives Democrats the best chance to win in November. He just doesn’t want to say so this early, instead saying silly things like this on Tuesday:

…the great thing about primaries, is everybody is trying to differentiate themselves, when, in fact, Bernie and Hillary agree on a lot of stuff and disagree pretty much across the board with everything the Republicans stand for. So my hope is, is that we can let the primary voters and caucus-goers have their say for a while, and let’s see how this thing plays itself out.

Hooey. He should, before things get out of hand, just call out Bernie’s electability problem and tell Democrats, most of whom still love and respect Mr. Obama, the truth, before too many people start to believe that he actually has a chance to win in November—as some meaningless national polls seem to show right now.

It may be correct for the President to say that “Bernie and Hillary agree on a lot of stuff,” but it is certainly not true that they agree on things that will matter in a general election against Republicans. And I’m not just talking about that whole democratic socialist thing. For sure Republicans will exploit that glaring weakness, using the public’s ignorance or misunderstanding of what democratic socialism is. That is a given. But what hasn’t been talked about much at all is another issue that will even trump the Bernie-is-a-Marxist meme that he will face. It is his problem with national security and our military, two subjects Bernie doesn’t talk about that often. And there are good reasons he doesn’t.

Michael Crowley, former senior writer for The New Republic and now a senior foreign affairs correspondent for Politico, has done Democrats a favor with his latest article (“Bernie Sanders versus the Pentagon“) detailing Bernie’s past positions on military spending and by implication giving us his overall view of what Obama said should be America’s crucial world role in acting “on big problem in smart ways” because if we don’t, “nobody will.” The very first sentence of Crowley’s piece is this stunner about Bernie’s record:

In 1995, he introduced a bill to terminate America’s nuclear weapons program.

What? Huh? You have to be kidding, right? Nope, he’s not kidding. You can go here and see for yourself: H.R.1511, introduced by Congressman Sanders, a bill with exactly zero co-sponsors. Needless to say because we still have nukes, Bernie’s bill was not successful. And needless to say, that bill will come back to haunt a general election Bernie in ways that will make his democratic socialism look like an asset.

And before you shout out, “But that was in 1995! It was so long ago,” let me introduce you to a woman named Judy Elliott, who in May of last year, after Bernie announced his intent to run for president, had this exchange with him at a town hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire:

JUDY ELLLIOTT: “Senator Sanders, I’m Judy from Canterbury NH. The United States already has thousands of nuclear weapons in its active military stockpiles, many of them on hair-trigger alert. And yet there is a plan, which the Administration apparently buys into, for a massive rebuilding of our nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles. A new fleet of submarines, heavy bombers, cruise missiles. It’ll cost a trillion dollars. Big profits for the corporations, but what do you think of this plan?”

BERNIE SANDERS: “Well, I’ll tell you what I think of it. It takes us right back to Carol’s question [previous question about a disabled child]. How does it happen that we have a trillion dollars available to expand our nuclear arsenal, but we don’t have the money to take care of the children in this country? What that’s about … What all of this is about is our national priorities. Who are we as a people? Does Congress listen to the military-industrial complex who has never seen a war that they didn’t like? Or do we listen to the people of this country who are hurting? And that’s what, in a sense, this campaign is about.”

Is that what his campaign is about? Really? Because I don’t hear him talk about it in those terms anymore. Oh, I hear him talking about a lot of good and necessary things that we ought to do with our national money, but I haven’t lately—since people have begun to take him seriously as a candidate—heard him talk about dismantling, or allowing to fall into disrepair, our nuclear defenses. Have you? But I can guarantee you that you will, should he become the Democratic nominee. If you don’t think Republicans will grossly exploit Bernie’s stand on not just our nuclear arsenal but on our military and its use in general, then you don’t know how politics works and how effective such attacks can be under the right circumstances.

It is true that we have a lot of nuclear weapons, and it might be true that we have more than enough to do the job, should that sad day ever come. And it is certainly true those weapons cost a lot of money to maintain and modernize, since our nuclear arsenal is aging. And there is no doubt, as Bernie has said, there is plenty of waste in the Pentagon’s budget and that we could and should spend some of that wasted money on people-helping policies. But like his revolutionary rhetoric regarding economic justice, it should be obvious that his radical proposals on our nuclear deterrent, as well as his past attacks on the Pentagon, are perfect targets for Republicans to exploit and to paint him as not only a radical socialist, but a dangerous radical socialist who will not keep the country safe.

Yes, you might say, that’s what Republicans always try to do to Democrats. Just ask John Kerry, a war hero who in 2004 was made out to be a lying coward who would coddle terrorists were he to become president. They always paint us as weak and dangerous. But in Bernie’s case, they won’t have to make up stuff. It’s right there in his record.

I will leave you with this paragraph from Michael Crowley’s excellent article:

The last Democrat to propose deep cuts in Pentagon spending was the party’s 1972 nominee, George McGovern, who campaigned on a nearly 10 percent reduction to its budget. McGovern’s defeat in a historic landslide prompted deep soul-searching within the Democratic Party and kindled a new movement of pro-defense Democrats.

mcgovern disaster of 1972There’s that George McGovern shellacking again coming up in the context of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. It keeps coming up for a reason. It keeps coming up because it is relevant for Democrats to think about, when they are thinking about who their nominee should be. And more than anyone else, President Obama has the pulpit from which he can make Democrats think about it long and hard. He should do so soon and not wait and “see how this thing plays itself out,” because this thing might not play itself out in the way he thinks.

11 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  February 18, 2016

    Please drop out Bernie!!!

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  2. Yes, Duane, you are spot-on about Bernie. I here present another example of what the military industrial complex has become and how the beast now has incredible fiscal momentum. This is from a defense-industry journal:

    WASHINGTON: Under intense budget pressure, a Pentagon cost-cutting team is pushing the Navy to cancel its third and last Zumwalt-class destroyer, the Lyndon Johnson (DDG-1002). But two sources familiar with the program say this cost-cutting measure just doesn’t add up.

    The DDG-1000 Zumwalts are expensive; three ships will cost almost $13 billion. About $9 billion of that was spent on research and development alone. As a result, they’re the most sophisticated surface combatants in the Navy, with a radar-baffling hull and enough electrical power to run high-tech weapons like lasers and rail guns. To pack in all that technology, they’re also 60 percent larger than the standard Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) design. Originally intended as the follow-on to the Burkes, they grew so expensive that, in a classic death spiral, the Navy cut the production run repeatedly: from 32 to 24 to 16 to seven to three.

    Now, according to a Pentagon memo, first reported by Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio, the Defense Department’s independent Cost Assessment & Program Evaluation office (CAPE) is considering cutting the third ship — which is in large part already built and paid for.

    And that’s just one example. Another is Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the most expensive weapons system in history at over half a TRILLION dollars and growing. As a retired military officer I am very much in favor of a strong military, but the business has grown insanely out of control. And yet Trump and other saber-rattling GOP candidates continue to babble about rebuilding our military. They and their supporters are deep in the rabbit hole.

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    • Jim, I agree with you on the out-of-control problem with our defense spending. I’ve heard that we have a military that is bigger than the next eight countries combined. Apparently, we need to make it larger than, what?, the next twelve countries? Absurd.

      But rather than talk about increasing the size of our military, I seems to me the candidates ought to talking about cutting the waste. You know, like stop buying hammers for $900 each and toilet seats for $500, or whatever those numbers are. They should also point to the thousands of M-1 Tanks sitting in the Nevada desert gathering dust and rust. There are also the so called graveyards where the Air Force sends old, and not so old, planes to die in the sun. Scrap anyone?

      And somebody should do an independent study on the F-35 fiasco. A trillion dollars down the drain is serious business. The candidates, both parties, should ask taxpayers if a trillion dollars up in smoke is enough, or should we continue to pour more taxes into such a failed project.

      A bigger military, no. A better military, yes.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. One of the questions I like to ask myself about weighty matters and crucial decisions:

    What if I am wrong? What are the consequences if what I believe to be correct is incorrect, and what I believe to be wrong is, in fact, right?

    I tend to agree with Mr. Graham’s point of view about Bernie Sanders and his electability versus Hillary’s. But what if we’re wrong, and we miss a golden opportunity, one that might not come around again for a long time, to change the course of political thinking in the USA for the better (from my viewpoint, at least)? It may be that the stakes here are higher than any of us can see from our limited perspective.

    How do we address ¨that” question? Can we address that question?

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    • King Beauregard

       /  February 18, 2016

      MLK Jr wasn’t a president, but he had everything to do with changing how our country thinks.

      President Sanders is most likely to stand as “evidence” that progressive causes are doomed in this country. Now Senator Sanders, or even Retired Senator Sanders Who Maintains An Active Public Presence, could do more good. The advantage of not being in the Oval Office is that you don’t have to be bound by the limitations of the job or the realities of politics.

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      • Anonymous

         /  February 18, 2016

        Good points; what I think you are saying is that just because Senator Sanders doesn’t get elected President does not mean that he will cease to be an influence on thinking and issues. In fact, it seems that you are saying that he could be more influential if he is not President.

        I see your point. Theodore Roosevelt, in his error about not running a second time on his own, evidently felt that was not true, that he could exert enough influence as a private citizen, at least not enough to satisfy him. Those were different times and a different person, though, so maybe you’re correct.

        I think that this nation is undergoing significant change right now in several modes. One is figuring out how to process and make sense of the tremendous quantity of information we are subjected to every moment of every day, and another is how do we care for our fellow citizens in a meaningful way without feeling as though we are taken advantage of. Underlying it all is the growing problem of disparate levels of wealth and advantage between the top and the bottom – that difference seemed to be decreasing in the first 60 years of the 20th century, but is definitely getting larger over the last 60 years or so.

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        • King Beauregard

           /  February 18, 2016

          Senator Sanders can at least shepherd good progressive bills through Congress. President Sanders has no such power.

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  4. We need a nuclear program because:
    A) we are going to nuke somebody at some point,
    B) we actually want to waste money on the program,
    C) we want to waste more money constantly maintaining heavy guard around all the stockpiles of nuclear weapons,
    D) and in spite of C, we don’t really understand the risk of having stockpiles of nuclear weapons, the risk that someone would attack us if we don’t have them, even though we wouldn’t use them either way, is too great.

    Somehow it all boils down to “McGovern”, not any rational thought, not even a thought about why exactly McGovern actually lost. Did you not know that up until Nixon, the Democrats WERE the party of defense? Vietnam was at the feet of the Democrats. Maybe in a few years Republicans might field a “McGovern” candidate who is weak on defense because of the shame of Iraq, but probably not.

    Like

    • I would have liked to see an answer to this.

      Like

    • @ Tige Gibson,

      A nuclear weapons program is vital because you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Nuclear weapons exist and the principal deterrent to their use is the reality that if one is used against us, we will retaliate in kind. Mutual Assured Destruction. This was why the Cold War never got hot and why only two have ever been used in war.

      Ridding the world of nukes is a worthy long-range goal but there is no hope of seeing that in our lifetimes that I can see. However, a very good case can and should be made that the program ought to concentrate on quality and reliability rather than maintaining an arsenal large enough to render the planet uninhabitable many times over. That part ain’t rocket science.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ben Field

     /  February 19, 2016

    Duane,

    I appreciate the efforts you are making to explain your position. I read an article from Dana Milbank, in The Washington Post, that explains how Hillary has raised $26 million to date for the DNC and state Democratic parties as opposed to the $1000 raised by Sanders. He further explains how this can decimate progressive efforts in the congressional and state elections. This was a sobering look a the number of Senate, House, state legislative representative, and governorships lost by the Democrats to the GOP during President Obama’s tenure. As outrageous as Citizens United was and continues to be, big money in elections is a necessary evil to compete with the other side in an effort to move democratic values forward. I agree that it seems that Hillary is best for the party’s efforts, even if far from perfect. We cannot succeed with the continued losses we have sustained with our representation.

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