How America’s Bloated Defense Budget Leaves Us Defenseless…and Broke

We’re spending billions on the military at the expense of health care and schools.

Photo Credit: Orlok / Shutterstock.com

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

It has been over six decades since Dwight D. Eisenhower uttered these words in a broadcast announcement from the Statler Hotel in Washington D.C. And while circumstances in America have undoubtedly changed, his words remain accurate.

Since the late 19th century, the United States has acted as the world’s policeman, the one that keeps order and makes sure everyone else sticks to the rules. Occupying this role evidently has had repercussions, both good and bad. Yet, it seems as of late the bad outweighs the good. The U.S.’s mission to police the world has led to massive overspending abroad and subsequently growing negligence at home. In an attempt to address this problem, the U.S. continues to do what it does best—throw money at it.

On September 18th, as Democrats fell in line with Republicans to fund the $692 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress proved they would continue to fund a system that does little to protect the American people. The act passed with a sweeping 89-8 vote—with only five Democrats voting against the act. The figure is a significant $80 billion annual increase from last year and a $28.5 billion more than President Trump asked for. It does not include the $12.9 billion of continued investment in nuclear security or $186 billion for the Veterans Administration Budget. Nor does it include the interest the United States has accumulated by putting their wars on a credit card. The total cost of military-related expenditures is over a trillion dollars and over 70% of all federal discretionary spending.

Speaking at Westminster College just three days after the NDAA passed, Senator Bernie Sanders, one of just five Democrats who voted against the bill, dismantled the case that progressives don’t have big ideas on foreign policy and set forth a template for future democratic positions on national security.

Standing where Eisenhower delivered his famous “Cross of Iron” speech nearly 70 years ago, Sanders rightly recognized the irony between a colossal Pentagon budget and Republican attempts to take health care away from tens of millions of Americans in the name of fiscal responsibility. He made clear that “we cannot convincingly promote democracy abroad if we do not live it vigorously here at home” and in a reliable Sanders-like fashion demanded we address our growing domestic issues.

He is right to wonder how asking a fraction of the price for domestic issues such as health care and education funding is criticized as a nonstarter, yet when it comes to our military, there is no number too high.

Earlier this year, Trump submitted a budget proposal in which he cut social spending dramatically to fund a $54 billion increase in defense spending. Democrats criticized it as a nonstarter. However, at September’s NDAA hearing, 41 Democrats raised little to no concern about this military spending—even at the cost of social spending.

Currently, the U.S. is $20.4 trillion in debt and we spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense. While we are authorizing $692 billion, China, our closest follower is spending $102 billion while Russia spends $59 billion. The argument for America’s excessive defense spending is synonymous with the argument that America is and must remain the strongest military on the planet. However, the cost necessary to maintain American power and protect our troops is small in comparison to the amount we spend, primarily because most of the defense budget does not directly impact our military standing or the safety of our troops.

First, there is fraud. A report prepared for Bernie Sanders by the Department of Defense showed that hundreds of defense contractors that defrauded the U.S. military received more than $1.1 trillion in Pentagon contracts during the past decade. Yes, that’s trillion with a “T.” For example, Northrop Grumman paid $62 million in 2005 to settle charges that it “engaged in a fraud scheme by routinely submitting false contract proposals,” and “concealed basic problems in its handling of inventory, scrap and attrition.”

Second, there is waste. As an example, July 2013, the Pentagon decided to build a 64,000 square foot command headquarters in Afghanistan for the U.S. military that is and will remain unoccupied. The project is estimated to have cost the Pentagon $34 million. We then supplied $771 million worth of aircraft for Afghan use. However, Afghanistan obtains only one-quarter of the trained personnel necessary to use them and in 2015, the Pentagon suppressed a study that reported $125 billion in waste.

Third, whether it is paying $8,000 for a $500 helicopter part, $425 million in wrongful travel reimbursements or the illustrative $640 toilet seat, the Pentagon has a history of overpaying. According to the Federal Procurement Data System’s top 100 contractors report for 2016, the CEO’s of the top five Pentagon contractors—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman—paid themselves a cumulative $96 million in 2016, more than a fair cut.

Conveniently enough, the Department of Defense can’t tell us how much equipment it has purchased, or how often it has been overcharged, or even how many contractors it employs. The Pentagon can only approximate that they employ more than 600,000 private contractors, yet these costs account for the majority of their tax spending dollars. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has announced they cannot even audit the Pentagon. To illuminate the utter disorder of the United States military finances, in 2015 in a rush to close its books, the army made $6.5 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries. A law in effect since 1992 requires annual audits of all federal agencies—and of all the federal agencies, the Pentagon alone has never complied. The NDAA is asking the American public to pay for huge expenditures that the Pentagon cannot even document.

What we do know of this year’s bill offers little in the way of consoling the American public that the money will be well spent. The defense authorization bill contains a number of provisions that increase the risk of cost overruns for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and undermine the ability of Pentagon officials and Congress to assess the combat suitability of new weapon systems in the future. Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act authorizes a block purchase of 440 F-35s through a procurement process called “Economic Order Quantity,” even though the planes are still being developed and the testing necessary to prove they are operationally effective won’t be completed for years. Until that testing is done, all the American people will get for their money is a pile of parts for an unproven prototype, a $1.4 trillion pile of uncertainty. A recent test of six of the new, stealthy fighters revealed that only one of them was capable of a rapid, ready alert launch. The F-35 program has come to symbolize all that’s wrong with American defense spending: a bloated budget, greedy manufacturers, and an impenetrable Pentagon culture that cannot adequately track its own spending.

To add concern, the NDAA requested $8.5 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, a $630 million boost above what Trump requested. It would add up to 28 ground-based interceptors as well as put $28 million into developing space-based missile sensors. Despite the fact that up to today the U.S. has spent nearly $320 billion, most analysts have little confidence that the U.S. can destroy any intercontinental missiles launched against them once they get off the ground. After the most recent failed interceptor test Philip E. Coyle III, who previously ran the Pentagon’s weapons-testing program, stated that the system “is something the U.S. military, and the American people, cannot depend upon.” Why add more money to an expensive system that has been compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet, that doesn’t work after over 20 years of trying?

Senate Republicans are concurrently proposing to cut billions from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid, in addition to big federal spending cuts that would likely decimate federal housing and education programs.

There exists a massive blind spot as senators fight tooth and nail to ensure no one is abusing food stamps, while dropping trillions on an unreliable, unaccountable defense strategy.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders pledged to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. This proposal was met with dismissal as though the notion belonged solely in Arcadia. The proposed plan was estimated to cost the federal government a mere $47 billion.

More recently, Sanders continued his Medicare-for-All plea with a health care system estimated to cost $1.4 trillion a year. This was treated as unrealistic although our current private insurance-based health care system will cost $3.35 trillion this year.

If America were to spend even double as much as China, four times as much as Russia on defense spending, we could potentially create an America where young people can attend college with little to no out of pocket cost and the millions of people with health issues can get the help they need without the financial burden.

Why is it that only six out of 47 Democratic senators can see the potential of cutting defense spending and instead funding domestic programs?

The notion of a healthy and educated America should not be the stuff of dreamers when it could be a tangible reality. America should not spend more on defense. America should spend smarter on defense and more on pressing domestic issues. And Democratic senators should realign their vote to match their supposed politics.

The Enormous Cost of More Nuclear Weapons: What Is the Gain?

Is funding the expansion of our nuclear arsenal in the country’s best interest or is it just Trump’s latest boastful display of American power?

An analysis by the Arms Control Association of U.S. government budget data projects the total cost over the next 30 years of the proposed nuclear modernization and maintenance at between $1.25 trillion and $1.46 trillion. This expenditure is not included in our defense budget of $700 billionwhich leads the world in military spending and represents more than the spending of the next seven countries combined –three times what China spends and seven times what Russia spends on defense.

To put this into perspective, this number exceeds the combined total federal spending for education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development (including disaster relief); law enforcement; and energy production and regulation.

With climate change deemed by the Pentagon as an immediate national security threathealthcare costs rising, and an increasing number of natural disasters, one might think nuclear weapons would lose their place as the top recipient of federal spending. But this is far from the case and there is a reason why.

As long as other countries continue to harbor nuclear weapons, we will do the same. And vise versa. As Donald Trump said at the start of his campaign, “If countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

This sentiment followed him into his presidency. The Trump administration just last week considered proposing additional, smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons that would cause less damage than traditional thermonuclear bombs.However, these mini-nukes are not some new, profound proposal. We have had nuclear weapons capable of being dialed down to the power of  “mini nukes” since the 80’s. The 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima would now be classified as a “mini-nuke” yet its destruction was monumental. Adding more, smaller nukes is an unnecessary, potentially dangerous addition. Proponents of the proposal claim these “mini-nukes” would give military commanders more options; critics, however, contend that it will also make the use of atomic arms more likely. Christine Parthemore, International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “Our investments should be careful lowering our threshold of use.” Further, the proposed addition will only add trouble to the already fraught international conversation opposing nuclear weapons.

As former Secretary of State George Shultz so eloquently put it, “proliferation begets proliferation.” One state’s nuclear acquisitions only drive its adversaries to follow suit. The reality is adding to our nuclear arsenal will only force our international opponents to defensively order a mad dash for the bomb.

In today’s political arena, as Russia remains volatile and North Korea’s threat grows, is funding the expansion of our nuclear arsenal in the country’s best interest or just Trump’s latest boastful display of American power?

Having a nuclear arsenal is supposed to ensure the raw principle behind nuclear deterrence: You won’t destroy us because we can destroy you. As Andrew Weber, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense & former Director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, says, “The sole purpose of having a nuclear arsenal is to deter an attack on the United States of America.”

This cold war era mindset relies on the relationship between acting and reacting. With the recognition that retaliation is likely, if not guaranteed, nuclear weapons are supposed to restrain the possibility of action on behalf of nuclear leaders. They are supposed to make them cautious, regardless of which states we are talking about or how many weapons they might possess.

According to a 2017 report by the Arms Control Association, The United States currently maintains an arsenal of about 1,650 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers and some 180 tactical nuclear weapons at bomber bases in five European countries.

The ICBM is arguably the most controversial piece of America’s nuclear triad, yet in August, the Air Force announced major new contracts for a revamp of the American nuclear force: $1.8 billion for initial development of a highly stealthy nuclear cruise missile, and nearly $700 million to begin replacing the 40-year-old Minuteman missiles in silos across the United States.

This plan was born from the Obama administration but enthusiastically hightailed by Trump. Obama’s reasoning was that as our weapons became increasingly safe, their numbers could be reduced.

However, Trump’s reasoning has proven to be different. His threat that North Korea will be met with “fury and fire” combined with his proposals of mini-nukes only propel the notion that he is not following past leaders in enforcing a no first strike policy.

The danger of revamping this shaky leg of the nuclear triad is in part due to Trump’s demonstrated impulsiveness. As Andrew Weber explains, “There is a 2-3 minute threat of the land-based missiles and it is impossible for the target to determine whether the weapon has a nuclear or conventional tip.” An impulsive president with nuclear codes capable of starting a nuclear war in 2-3 minutes using a weapon that must fly over Russia and has the possibility of mistaken identity, is essentially a recipe for disaster.

Christine Parthemore says the “ICBM is the weakest link” and we should begin reform by eliminating it. Yet, instead the current administration is both modernizing and adding to this arsenal, a move that will most likely draw other countries to do the same and commit the United States to keeping the most vulnerable branch of its “nuclear triad.”

The 2017 report by the Arm Control Association broke down the proposed spending for Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and found the total reached over $128 billion. The costly program, titled Colombia Class, includes 12 new boats for the Navy, and has a projected life-cycle cost of $282 billion. In comparison, free public education in America would cost a mere $62.6 billion dollars.

The third and final upgrade is a modernization of the current B-2 Bomber costing 9.5 billion. However, in accordance with Obama’s efforts to decrease the US’s quantity of weapons, known as START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), the Pentagon announced it would retain 42 deployed and 4 non-deployed nuclear capable B-52 bombers. The remainder of the B-52 bombers would be converted to carry only conventional weapons.

In these last few weeks, as tensions rise to an unprecedented high with North Korea, it may seem like the wrong time to discuss the reduction and soon eradication of ICBM’s. However, Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, says that how America chooses to go forward at this moment in time will have utmost consequences to the entire international political arena and its potential for nuclear war.

In the past weeks North Korea launched 22 missiles in 15 tests and sought to assure its dominance and Trump, in his expected fashion, took to Twitter to boast American power, a move that North Korean leaders took to mean war. With the threat of a nuclear war with North Korea actualizing, America should be discussing the potential of reigning in North Korea by moving away from nuclear weapons. As it is, Trump’s egotistical rhetoric falls flat when up against Kim Jong-un, a ruthless tyrant willing to gamble with the lives of millions of his citizens. If the US were to strike first, there would no doubt be retaliation. Despite having spent hundreds of billions on strategic missile defenses, most analysts have little confidence that the US can destroy any intercontinental missiles launched against them once they get off the ground. After the most recent failed interceptor test Philip E. Coyle III, who previously ran the Pentagon’s weapons-testing program, stated that the system “is something the U.S. military, and the American people, cannot depend upon.” This is after spending $8 billion a year for the past forty years.

Ultimately, there is no military option that would not entail a mind-bogging gamble with the lives of millions of Americans, Japanese and especially South Koreans.

Our current policy of pugnacious rhetoric does little to affect Kim Jong-un. We have been tightening sanctions on North Korea for over a decade, and their nuclear program has only accelerated. A first-strike by America means the endangerment of millions. What this leaves is diplomacy. Negotiating with North Korea will not be easy but it is possible. The Clinton administration helped negotiate the important 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea effectively froze its major nuclear programs.

Creating a deal with Iran through diplomatic relations appeared unreasonable until it happened.

Sanctions should remain in place but they must be paired with some diplomatic engagement. We must be open to offering North Korea things that they want: security guarantees, some form of international political recognition, and economic benefits in exchange for a freeze on their nuclear and missile programs. We must do all this while strengthening our relationship with South Korea and Japan and maintaining a strong foothold enclosing North Korea. None of this will be possible without the trust of the international community, a trust that is shaken with Trump’s threat of ripping up Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal.

We must also remember that China would rather see a nuclear North Korea than a larger United States presence in Asia. As of now, China facilitates about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade and provides its oil. And it is China that has opposed a stricter U.N. embargo for fear of a collapsed regime and a potential unified Korea allied with the United States. It is important now more than ever to isolate North Korea with the help of our allies.

Now is not the time to build up our nuclear arsenal and respond to threats with military action, especially as we face an already threatened North Korea. It is crucial now more than ever not to proliferate the use of nuclear weapons. The goal is to deter and when it comes to deterrence, more is not better, especially when it is so incredibly expensive.

If GOPers Were Thinking in Their Own Interests, They Would Embrace the ACA… But They Don’t

Republican voters’ primary goal is to make a point against Obama, not get more affordable care.

Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

Why Republican voters seem to vote against their own best interest has long been a liberal’s conundrum. When Trump won the 2016 Presidential election, many liberals outspokenly wondered, “Why would Republicans elect a President whose policies challenge their best interests?” But perhaps they should instead be asking why so many of these Americans were drawn to a man like Donald Trump, despite the fact that his policies challenge their best interest.

No clearer can this question be surveyed than in the case of the Affordable Care Act.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump vowed to get rid of “ObamaCare” and replace it with “something terrific, something great.” This campaign promise was critical to the success of his Republican presidential candidacy, and subsequently he repeated it on his first day in office. With his victory, it seemed clear that dismantling Obama’s greatest domestic policy achievement was of utmost priority in the minds of America’s Republicans.

However, the call for repeal proved stronger in theory than in actuality. On July 28th, after repetitious failures to repeal ObamaCare, Republicans staged their final hurrah–a “skinny repeal” that lacked nearly all the political toxin of their previous attempts. However, Republicans John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins joined the Democrats in voting down the proposed law. When the law died in the Senate, it seemed to die to the public as well. The very people who had chanted alongside Trump became hesitant of his promise to repeal their health care system. A video of a man changing his mind and calling for the continuation of ACA circled the internet; The New York Times interviewed a man, Mr. Brahin, who said “As much as I was against it, at this point I’m against the repeal. Now that you’ve insured an additional 20 million people, you can’t just take the insurance away from these people,” he added. In fact, according to a poll tracked by PollingReportwhich The Washington Post compiled starting in March, on average, only 22 percent of Americans supported GOP proposals to replace the ACA.

What became clear in the weeks during the Republican’s attempt to repeal the ACA is that the majority of Republicans did not originally vote against the law itself; they voted against President Obama and a government they felt no longer represented them.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, focusing specifically on Republicans, when asked the main reason why they have an unfavorable view of the health care law, about three in ten said it is because they believe the law gives government too big a role in the health care system (31 percent) or say it is just one of many indications that President Obama took the country in the wrong direction (27 percent). This reaction to the ACA is a mirror into the way politics is organized today. Policies do not drive opinions, culture does. The majority of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Obama’s ACA, precisely because it was Obama’s ACA; it was the Democrat’s ACA; it was not their ACA.

Yet, logistically it was. In 1993, the Clintons sought to reform health care. In response, Republicans scrambled to introduce their own health care bill. The Heritage Foundation, forefather of right wing think tanks, with Republican Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island leading, proposed the Health Equity and Access Reform Today, which is argued to be nearly identical to the ACA. Both bills proposed an individual mandate, the creation of purchasing pools, standardized benefits, vouchers for the poor to buy insurance and a ban on denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. While the bill never came into being, it represented a similarity between the logistics of Republican and Democratic health care ideals. Further, Obama himself has credited Romneycare as a foundation for ObamaCare. And Romney was quoted saying, “without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare.” Substantively, the ACA could very well be the GOP’s bill, if it was not tainted with “Obama.”

To boot, if Republicans were to vote according to their own best interest when it came to health care, the statistics say they would most likely support the ACA.

Roughly 20 million people have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, Democrats and Republicans alike. In fact, the parts of the country that lean the most heavily Republican showed significantly more insurance gains than places where voters lean strongly Democratic. Florida and Texas, two Republican leaning states, saw about 3.3 million people gain coverage as statewide uninsured rates fell 36 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Yet, only 3% of Republicans said it benefited themselves or their families.

Of the 11.5 million Marketplace enrollees nationally, 6.3 million live in Republican districts and 5.2 million live in Democratic districts.

To understand the disparity between the law’s success and its approval rating among Republicans, take a closer look at Florida, a hot spot for curious political perplexities. Three congressional districts – all represented by Republicans – have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the country. Yet, irony prevailed when only nine House Republicans, none from Florida, dissented from the near party line 227-198 vote to repeal the ACA.

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has outspokenly favored the ACA’s repeal and replacement, heads Florida’s District 27. In 2013, she called the law’s implementation “bungled” and “not the answer for America’s health care system.” Her district enrolls 96,300 people, the highest number in the country, according to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Florida’s 26th district, led by Rep. Carlos Curbelo follows close behind with 92,500.

If the Republican’s plan to repeal the ACA were to actualize, nearly 200,000 people in these Republican districts would lose health insurance.

The inconsistency continues as, according to The Census Bureau, people who live outside metropolitan statistical areas have the highest rates of government coverage, at 42.7%. Yet, in the 2016 election Donald Trump won the presidency with a vast majority of support from those outside of metropolitan statistical areas, areas incongruously occupied by both ACA enrollees and Trump supporters.

Further, the populations with no high school diploma are the most likely to have government coverage (35.2 percent) compared with high school graduates (24.8 percent) and people with a bachelor’s or graduate or professional degree (11.2 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively). Looking at the 2016 election, it appears that educational levels were crucial in predicting who would vote toward one candidate or the other. According to a statistical presentation by FiveThirtyEight, it was the least educated states that won Donald Trump the presidency, especially given that a fair number of them are in swing states such as Ohio and North Carolina.

More recently, Politico explored the repercussions of Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on rural America.

What the statistics tell us is that less education and living in rural areas means both a higher percentage of ACA enrollees and a higher percentage of Trump supporters. Given these statistics, why did Republicans vote for a President who ran on the promise that he would essentially take away their health insurance?

Perhaps the same reason liberals do–a higher motivation than self-interest. Liberals tend to support higher taxes. And these foundational ideals usually do not sway whether or not the policy negatively affects them. According to a survey by CNBC, eighty-six percent of Democratic millionaires said inequality is a problem, compared with only 20 percent of Republicans. Democratic millionaires were far more supportive of taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage. Among those who say inequality is a problem, 78 percent of Democrats support higher taxes on the wealthy, and 77 percent back a higher minimum wage. The same goes for liberals’ support of affirmative action, when it does not directly further their best interest.

While it is possible that Republicans do not know the substance of the policies they reject, as we saw with Tomi Lahren admitting her use of the ACA despite her being its biggest adversary, it is also possible that when voting, Democrats and Republicans have different priorities. Republican’s do not prioritize health care the way Democrats do but instead put their energy into the military, taxes, and terrorism. While Republicans lose the most materially by supporting Trump and his repeal of the ACA, they gain a sort of cultural power or at the very least cultural recognition.

The fight for many Republicans, it seems, is not to pinpoint the best policies but to live in an America that they recognize and that recognizes them. While this mindset begs for sympathy, it also demands concern. Republicans should not use health care as an emblem of their partisan ambitions because the cost is too high.

Why Are Americans So Afraid?

Facts take a backseat to deeply ingrained fears.

Photo Credit: Thomas Bethge/Shutterstock

At a rally in North Carolina in December 2016, a 12-year-old girl said to candidate Donald Trump, “I’m scared. What are you going to do to protect this country?”

“You know what, darlin’?” Trump replied. “You’re not going to be scared anymore. They’re going to be scared.”

Throughout his campaign, Trump played off the rising fear of the American public. His us-vs.-them rhetoric eroded people’s trust in facts, numbers, nuance, government and the news media and augmented the already fragile line of truth. Trump knew Americans were afraid and that they would vote accordingly.

But there is a remarkable dissonance between what seems to be and what is. According to Harvard professor Steven Pinker, “Violence has been in decline over long stretches of time and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”

In most of the world, the rate of homicide has been sinking. The great American crime decline of the 1990s proceeded right through the recession of 2008 and up to the present. Among 88 countries with reliable data, 67 have seen a decline in homicide in the past 15 years.

“You often hear people saying, on both sides of the political divide, that the world is a mess,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a public grant-making foundation focused on nuclear weapons policy and conflict resolution. “The world is not a mess. It’s just messy.” The collapse of the existing order in the Middle East, Cirincione said, is one manifestation of the world’s messiness. “But the world itself is doing pretty darn good. We do not have major powers in conflict. We have small wars. We do not have major wars.”

Yet a Gallup poll found that concern about crime and violence is at its highest level in 15 years. According to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, some 70 percent of our citizenry is afraid of threats of terrorism, economic collapse, cyber warfare and government corruption.

So how is it that we are living in what is arguably the safest time in history, yet we as a country exist in a culture of fear?

Christopher Fettweis, author of The Pathologies of Power: Fear, Honor, Glory, and Hubris in U.S. Foreign Policy, says it is because “our fear is not based on an intellectual conclusion, it’s a belief.” America’s fear has become a framework of belief, surpassing far beyond the plasticity of opinions. And as history has proved time and time again, beliefs are near impossible to change.

The reality is “facts” don’t mean much in the way of beliefs. Telling a person, who has the sincerest gut belief, the statistic that more Americans are killed each year by furniture than by terrorism becomes somehow unconvincing, or rather disagreeable. Political psychologists call this tendency to conform assessments of information to some goal or end extrinsic to accuracy “motivated reasoning.” In other words, people believe what they want to believe. This cognitive process infiltrates everything from us convincing ourselves a gluten-free cupcake is healthy to our groundless denial of climate change and gun violence.

So why is this process so crucial in understanding the culture of fear in America? It perpetuates it. Because humans will dismiss rational thinking for the sake of reconfirming their identity, their fears will eclipse facts. A conservative turns on the news to see a terrorist attack in London. Then he goes on Twitter to see fellow conservatives’ rant about building a wall and protecting our borders. His fear is legitimized within their cushy network of familiarity. If the conservative encountered the fact that “zero refugees from countries included in the president’s travel ban have killed anyone in terrorist attacks on American soil,” he would ignore it, because it does not fit with his worldview. The individual does not conform to adjust his perspective, but emerges unconvinced and indignantly dogged. According to psychologist Tom Gilovich, this is because the fundamental questions we ask ourselves in response to particular information conforms to what we want to believe. “For desired conclusions,” he writes, “it is as if we ask ourselves ‘Can I believe this?,’ but for disagreeable conclusions we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’”

People do not confront new information looking for truth, but rather looking for their truth and this means facts take a backseat to deeply ingrained fears.

These fears are sustained through media coverage. Nearly every time we switch on the news, a building is in flames, a new virus has swept a new nation, or a man with a gun has wreaked havoc on an elementary school. It seems a string is holding the world together. The overwhelming coverage of terrorist attacks, shootings and other violent episodes are so entwined in our daily lives that their imminence is inflated. “Your day-to-day experience is that terrible things are happening and they could happen to you tomorrow,” says Cirincione. For those who have not made it beyond the U.S. border, their perceptions of the outside world are shaped solely by this media diet. And what makes news coverage overseas? People having bad things happen, doing bad things to each other; violence and degradation.

To the individual, this news coverage is a consistent reminder of our own mortality. According to a study done by the American Psychological Association, when confronted with thoughts of our own mortality people appear to behave more conservatively by shunning and even punishing outsiders and those who threaten the status of their cherished worldviews. This helps explain how America’s current culture of fear has become synonymous with the fear of terrorism. Despite the fact that the chances of being a victim of terrorism are roughly the same as that of being hit by lightning, a majority of Americans now worry that they or their families will be victims of terrorism, up from a third less than two years ago, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Terrorist attacks carry the powerful quality of uncertainty. Since 1973, psychologists have argued that political conservatism as an ideological belief system is significantly related to concerns having to do with the psychological management of uncertainty. According to a study done by NYU, we respond to uncertainty as we would respond to a threat—with fear. As death reminders become more prevalent, society becomes more antagonistic toward those with different beliefs and values; people become more fearful of the other. The common rhetoric turns to that of us-vs.-them. We feel we have to build a literal wall to separate ourselves from the big, bad existential other. In this world of inflamed rhetoric, Muslims become terrorists, factual probability becomes irrelevant and doing nothing becomes weakness.

This mentality has cost the U.S. roughly hundreds of billions of dollars annually on counter-terrorism efforts, yet terrorism is rising. In 2015, terrorist attacks occurred in almost 100 countries, up from 59 in 2013, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database. In America, the numbers are different: 24 people have died in America from terrorist attacks since 9/11, less than two per year. These 24 lives are important, but so are the nearly 45,000 annual deaths associated with lack of health insurance; the 37,000 annual deaths from road crashes each year; the over 59,000 who die annually due to the opioid epidemic; and the 99,000 who died from preventable healthcare-associated infections. And the list goes on.

Given these statistics, how the government chooses to allocate our resources comes as a shock. To combat the most likely cause of death, heart disease, the government contributes only $2 billion. And just $300 million is devoted to research on the third most likely cause of death, strokes. The U.S. Congress funded cancer research through the NCI with just over $5 billion in 2017. Yet as Americans we allow this to continue largely because we’re too lazy to crosscheck the facts and confront the issue logically. As long as terrorism pervades the media, the government will continue to put money where the fear is, whether logical or not at all.

Telling people not to fear terror in this hyperactive age is like trying to convince a person standing in the rain that it is a sunny day. Their experience, their worldview, their very sense of self says otherwise. This is not to say that Americans do not have the right to be afraid. Fear is an instinctive response, but our heightened response should be redirected to realistic fears, the things that might actually kill us.

Jon Stewart Should Run for President

It’s time for a left-leaning celebrity to run—and win.

Guy Saperstein, Kelsey Abkin, Jon Stewart

Two years ago, the suggestion that Jon Stewart should run for president would be met with satirical criticism. He does not have experience holding office, he is an entertainer, not a politician, and he’s funny—too funny to be president. But times have changed dramatically. On Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, millions of Americans watched as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio turned red and Donald Trump, a businessman who knows more about luxury hotels than foreign policy, was voted to the highest office in the land by the will of millions of Americans.

No one saw it coming. Democrats were blindsided by the upset and the media were left scrambling. But Jon Stewart, in an interview with CNN explained, “The door is open to an a**hole like Donald Trump because the Democrats haven’t done enough to show people that a government…that can be effective for people, can be efficient for people,” he said. “And if you can’t do that, then you’ve lost the right to make that change and someone’s going to come in and demagogue you.”

Stewart had a grasp on the current state of politics and an understanding of the drive behind Clinton’s loss. More importantly, he has the charisma to make people listen.

Anything is possible, but Jon Stewart is necessary. At a time when a majority of Americans feel cheated by the demographic revolution that is underway around the world, and vote according to a deep fear of becoming minorities in their own country, Jon Stewart is the strongest weapon the Democratic Party could employ to combat Trump-era voters.

A large part of Donald Trump’s appeal is that he is entertaining. His press conferences are turbulent and his tweets make us laugh and cry and nearly forget he holds the highest office in the country. America likes entertainment and craves drama. We’re a reality TV obsessed, celebrity-crazed nation. Celebrity news sells. Jon Stewart would sell the same way that Trump has. He would be controversial in his bluntness, but wiser in his actions. People would be excited for him to open his mouth, but not embarrassed when he does. He is as entertaining as Donald Trump, yet he is the Donald Trump antidote.

At a time when only 16 percent of Americans think the government does the right thing “most of the time,” celebrities may simply be a trusted alternative. In 2016, Trump joined stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, and Sonny Bono in making a successful turn to politics. He did not shy away from his lack of political experience, but instead framed it as an asset, appealing to the “outsider,” to the attractive idea of shaking up traditional politics. Perhaps his familiarity on our television screen was more comfortable than the detached politicians. Perhaps we could forgive him when he misspoke, because we saw it as entertainment. Perhaps no average politician could stand up to him.

But now, imagine in 2020 Jon Stewart next to Donald Trump, calling him out on every flub, every ill-informed word, with the magnetism of an accomplished entertainer. This value of Stewart should not be condoned, but embraced. However, he must not be clumped in the likes of Trump, Reagan or Schwarzenegger, because his prior career as an entertainer required a complex understanding of politics and a debate style wit. He was not reiterating the thoughts of others, but consistently building his own and expressing them in a way many current politicians cannot.

As if Stewart the entertainer does not carry enough appeal, perhaps Stewart the everyman will. Stewart worked for what he accomplished in the good old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” tradition. Stewart held numerous jobs before hosting his own show: he was a contingency planner for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, a contract administrator for City University of New York, a puppeteer for children with disabilities, a soccer coach at Gloucester High School in Virginia, a caterer, a busboy, a shelf stocker at Woolworth’s, a bartender, and finally a standup comedian. He is relatable. He is the bartender down the street, the friendly neighbor volunteer and your child’s soccer coach. But he is also a political titan in his own right. He built an empire off his witty comments and political expertise; he is both relatable and intimidating.

Not only is Jon Stewart attractive as a candidate, but his win is a real possibility, thanks in part to his already existing fan base. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Twitter boasted more than 6 million followers; its Facebook page got over 7 million likes, and his episodes have garnered as many as 3.5 million viewers, not including those watched with DVR playback. He has a ready-made audience; all he has to do is talk.

Millennials make up a large part of Stewart’s fan base, which is important because they are a vital demographic in the 2020 election. In the 2016 election, 50% of citizens aged 18-29 didn’t show up to the polls. It seemed the millennial support Obama garnered just didn’t translate to Clinton. According to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, Bernie Sanders won more votes among those under age 30 than the two presumptive major-party presidential nominees combined. And it wasn’t close. It was clear the Democrats presented the wrong nominee.

If Jon Stewart had run in the 2016 election, it is fair to say he would have brought back the Obama-era millennial coalition and garnered the support of the Bernie Sanders supporters. There’s no reason why traditional Democrats wouldn’t support him as well. In 2020, after Trump has shown his incompetency in office, Stewart’s fight will only be easier. President Obama understood this. In 2015, Politico reported that Jon Stewart was invited to the White House twice—first in 2011 and again in 2014.

“Jon Stewart was a key influencer for millennials,” said Dag Vega, who worked for several years at the White House developing relationships with media figures. “They relied on him for an honest take on the news, and the president and senior staff know that.”

Stewart knows how to work the political system. In 2010, he successfully shamed politicians into passing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, legislature that covered medical expenses for emergency workers thought to be sickened by their exposure to toxic substances during the 9/11 recovery efforts. When in 2015, the bill had not yet been renewed, Stewart again took matters into his own hands and marched twice to Congress and publically shamed lawmakers into renewing the bill. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg described Stewart’s coverage as “one of the biggest factors that led to the final agreement.” Stewart took his political knowledge further, to Iran, when he wrote, directed and produced the political drama Rosewater, which portrayed a deep understanding of Iranian politics.

Unlike Donald Trump, Stewart’s history is free of questionable business dealings or allegations of sexual assault. The only “skeleton” in his closet is his name-change from Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz to Jon Stewart, a move he made to succeed as a newbie in the entertainment industry. Many other entertainers have done the same thing, including Katy Perry, Elton John and Natalie Portman.

Trump’s presidency has made the previously unthinkable a reality and paved the way for a left-leaning celebrity to run for office — and win.

Trump Didn’t Win the Election, Hillary Lost It

Hillary was always going to be a weak candidate and the evidence was there for anyone willing to see it.  The only surprise was how hard many people worked not to see the obvious. For one, she was exactly the wrong candidate for 2016. In May 2014, two and a half years ago, I wrote on these pages:

By every metric, voters are in a surly mood and they are not going to be happy campers in 2016, either. Why should they be? The economy is still in the toilet, not enough jobs are being created even to keep up with population growth, personal debt and student debt are rising, college graduates can’t find jobs, retirement benefits are shrinking, infrastructure is deteriorating, banksters never were held accountable for melting down the economy, inequality is exploding — and neither party is addressing the depth of the problems America faces. As a result, voters in 2016 will be seeking change and there is no way Clinton can run as a “change” candidate — indeed, having been in power in Washington for 20-plus years as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, she is the poster child for the Washington political establishment, an establishment that will not be popular in 2016.

This is exactly what happened, which is why the Washington Post’s chief political writer Chris Cilliza could write today:

This was a change election. And Trump was the change candidate. To me, this is the single most important number in the exit poll in understanding what voters were thinking when they chose Trump. Provided with four candidate qualities and asked which mattered most to their vote, almost 4 in 10 (39 percent) said a candidate who “can bring needed change.” (A candidate who “has the right experience” was the second most important character trait.) Among those change voters, Trump took 83 percent of the vote to just 14 percent for Clinton.

On top of this problem–which to be fair to Clinton was not a problem of her making–she was extremely unpopular and had a long history dating back to 2007 of polling badly against Republicans. In December 2007, while leading national polls among Democrats by 26 points, in head-to-head polls against Republicans, she polled weaker against Republican presidential candidates than John Edwards and a relatively unknown new black Senator from Illinois. In fact, when matched up against Republicans–who had a very weak field themselves in 2008–she even polled behind an unnamed generic Democratic candidate. We saw this inherent weakness repeated in 2016, when she was challenged by a 74-year old senator from a small state who wasn’t even a Democrat, who had virtually no financial base, but went from 3% in national polls to winning 22 contested primaries and 47% of the votes in those primaries, in the process regularly pulling 20,000+ enthusiastic people to his rallies, while Hillary spoke in small gatherings to large donors and never attracted more than 800 people to an event.

What this obvious lack of enthusiasm for Hillary translated to in this election is the single most appalling–and definitive–statistic of this campaign: Hillary got almost 10 million fewer votes than Obama got in 2008, despite the fact there are millions more registered voters now and six million less votes than Obama got in 2012. Trump did not win this election. Hillary lost it. In fact, Trump got fewer votes than Mitt Romney in 2012!  We are not surrounded by more Republicans. We are surrounded by Democrats who were not inspired by the Wall Street-friendly candidate their party pushed on them.

Hillary’s utter tone-deafness about her connections to Wall Street was another huge liability.  In November 2014, I wrote:

On nearly every important issue, except women’s issues, Clinton stands to the right of her Democratic base. Overwhelmingly, Democrats believe that Wall Street played a substantial role in gaming the system for their benefit while melting down the economy, but Clinton continues to give speeches to Goldman Sachs at $200,000 a pop, assuring them that, “We all got into this mess together and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it.” In her world — a world full of friends and donors from Wall Street — the financial industry does not bear any special culpability in the financial meltdown of 2007-’08. The mood of the Democratic base is populist and angry, but Clinton is preaching lack of accountability.

She got hammered by Sanders, and later Trump, for her reliance on Wall Street money, and then added to her problems by not releasing transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street banks to the public, which exacerbated the perception that she was not transparent and was rigging the system with the financial industry in ways that did not serve the public. So when her email problems arose, it all seemed part of the same pattern of duplicity.  Polls with voters rating her 65% “untrustworthy” soon followed.

She also never explained why she had supported the deregulation of Wall Street, never explained why she had promoted NAFTA, why she had called the NAFTA-like Trans Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” of trade deals, despite the damage NAFTA had caused to America’s manufacturing base and the millions of jobs that had been exported to lower-paying countries. And the DNC Democrats who fixed the primaries to nominate her have never explained how they expected to win the industrial midwest with a candidate who had contributed to their economic demise or why they favored Clinton over a candidate who ran 10 points stronger against every Republican presidential candidate, including Trump, in match-up polls.

This election was always going to be a plebiscite on the status quo and the status quo candidate, Hillary Clinton. For a while many thought Hillary could pass it because she was matched against the weakest candidate imaginable. In the end, she could not overcome her many liabilities, the fact that her party had forgotten they needed to deliver results to the working class, nor the surly mood of voters who had figured out what a rigged system looked like and were willing to try a long-shot who might just bust up the system.

Can John Edwards Pass the Leadership Test?

John Edwards ran a campaign of integrity and ideas, which he and his supporters can be very proud of. He spoke for a tradition of populist progressivism, which long has had too few advocates. He spoke of a need to change America, to change America’s priorities. But now that he has bowed to the inevitable fact that the Democratic Presidential candidate will be Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, the question becomes, “Can John Edwards pass the test of leadership?” Can he provide direction to the 15% of Democrats who supported him in the primaries? Can he use this moment in time, this opportunity, to advance the causes he believes in? Can he support the candidate who more closely represents his ideals, or will he be cautious, unwilling to choose, unwilling to lead?

There can be no doubt that ideologically John Edwards stands closer to Barack Obama than to Hillary Clinton. This was evident in the Democratic Presidential debates. Despite the successes of Edwards and Obama in life and politics, both are true political outsiders—mavericks in a sea of conventional wisdom. Indeed, the Clintons not only represent the status quo, they embody one of the Americas John Edwards so eloquently described—the well-connected, powerful, prosperous America which is doing well, which has benefited by globalization, which has secure jobs. This is the America the Clintons courted and pandered to during Bill Clinton’s presidency, and which they continue to represent. This is the America of special interests, which is as comfortable with the Clintons as with Republicans. But it is not the other America that John Edwards spoke so passionately about.

Certainly, there must be the temptation for Edwards to step back and let the two remaining combatants battle it out. This path offers Edwards the easy option of hedging his bets, perhaps in the hope that he will retain credibility with the ultimate winner and be able to advance his issues, and, dare I say it, his own interests after the election. On examination, however, this path offers Edwards nothing at all. Let’s assume—and I think it is a fair assumption—that, for the reasons stated above, there is no chance Edwards would endorse Clinton and that the choice he faces is endorsing no one or endorsing Obama. If he stands mute and Clinton wins, she will owe him nothing and she will not even be interested in his concerns; the best he will get is a courtesy lunch or a sub-Cabinet position in a non-critical department. On the other hand, if he fails to help Obama now, when help is most important, the leverage he will have with a victorious Obama would be much diminished than what it is now—such is the essence of politics, a brutal blood sport. On the other hand, should Edwards see the wisdom of endorsing Obama now, his leverage would be greater than it will ever be and he can deal for commitments to support his poverty agenda, and perhaps even for an important position in an Obama Administration. Surely I am not the first to think of John Edwards as Attorney General and if Obama were to make such a commitment, it would be no sell-out of values because John Edwards not only is eminently qualified to be AG, he may well be the most qualified Democratic attorney in America to be AG in a Democratic Administration.

I supported John Edwards in the 2004 Democratic primaries and donated to his campaign this time around. I have watched him grow in stature as a politician since the day in June 2003 when he appeared at an event at my house to explain to me and 75 other Democrats who he was and what he stood for. He ran a great campaign in 2004 and he ran a better one this time, but it was just not to be. But having come as far as he has come, he is not done. He owes it to his supporters, to progressive Democrats, to all Democrats, and to all the voiceless people he speaks for to provide leadership and direction about what direction this country should go and who should lead them as the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. Silence, or none of the above, should not be an option.

Hillary Clinton Is Trying to Drive Democrats Into a Dead End on Foreign Policy

In recent weeks, Hillary Clinton has increased her attack on Barack Obama, arguing that foreign policy experience is essential to “being ready on Day One.” Clinton thinks this argument will bring her closer to the presidency, but she is actually painting herself, and Democrats, into a corner in the general election, for, whatever one may think about her or Senator Obama’s foreign policy credentials, they certainly are less than John McCain’s. Democrats cannot run the general election campaign on the question of who has more foreign policy experience, or experience, in general, because the answer to those questions will be John McCain, even though most of his foreign experience is military. The Democratic campaign will have to be about which candidate has demonstrated the best judgment in foreign affairs, not who has the most experience. Which one endorsed and supported the greatest foreign policy fiasco in modern American history? Which continued to support this war long after every possible justification for it had collapsed? Whose belligerent statements would increase the chance of war with Iran? In answering these questions — the questions Democrats will have to emphasize in a campaign against McCain — Hillary Clinton doesn’t fare so well.

First of all, it is not clear where Hillary derives the foreign policy “experience” advantage she claims, if not her eight years in the White House as First Lady. But when did the American Presidency become a monarchy? When did the First Lady role morph into the Queen? No First Lady, including Hillary, has been tasked with foreign policy assignments. As First Lady, the main purpose of her foreign travel was to engage in ceremonial events. There was nothing wrong with that, of course, but being hostess or guest at dinner parties is not “Commander-in-Chief” experience any more than Senator Obama’s experience living abroad is foreign policy experience. In fact, it can plausibly be argued that living in a foreign country, which Senator Obama has done, provides a deeper understanding of how the rest of the world thinks than bopping into a country for a day or two to schmooze with a Saudi oligarch. If her foreign policy role was more than that, why has she refused to release her White House papers so voters could see evidence of what her “experience” claims are based on?

Whatever her actual level of “experience,” since entering the U.S. Senate, Senator Clinton has been one of the most hawkish of Democrats, including, of course, her vote for the October 2002 Iraq Resolution which led to war with Iraq. She and Bill have tried to explain that vote on the grounds that President Bush’s true intentions, and the debacle Iraq would soon become, were “unknown and unknowable.” These claims cannot withstand scrutiny, however. Long before October 2002, there were abundant reasons not to trust anything Bush/Cheney said about Iraq. Long before October 2002, there existed a large body of scholarship that detailed the regional and religious conflicts that would erupt in Iraq if Saddam were removed. Two of the best predictors of the fiasco that Iraq would become, were President George H.W. Bush and his National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft, both of whom had written well-known articles and memoirs about why Baghdad should not be invaded — in the case of Scowcroft, in a New York Times Op-Ed shortly before the vote on the Iraq Resolution. And these warnings were not lost on the large majority of Democrats in Congress; in fact, 148 Democrats in Congress (125 in the House and 23 in the Senate) saw through the smoke and mirrors, accurately perceived that Bush/Cheney would use the resolution to invade Iraq, and voted against the resolution. Hillary Clinton missed all the clues, took the Republican bait, and made one of the worst foreign policy decisions in modern American history. As recently as December 2005, Senator Clinton wrote a letter to her constituents defending her war vote. While she now favors troop withdrawals, her turn against the war followed the opinion of a majority of Democratic voters by more than two years. Is following public opinion the type of leadership that “experience” produces? If it is, maybe we need less of it.

Hillary Clinton fell into the same hawk trap by voting for the Kyl-Lieberman resolution [Senator Obama opposed it], which labeled part of the Iranian national army, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, “a terrorist organization.” Aside from the fact that Iran has played a very cautious role in Iraq and seeks a long-term accommodation with the U.S. in Iraq, labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organization” establishes the pre-conditions for a military attack on Iran, just as Bill Clinton’s call for “regime change” in Iraq was the predicate for attacking Iraq. Once Democrats, like Hillary Clinton, label part of the Iranian Army a “terrorist organization,” how can they complain when Bush attacks the Guards without appearing weak on “terrorism.” The Clintons play chess one move at a time; they simply are no match for Republicans, who see the whole board and plan several moves ahead.

The problem of Clinton’s poor instincts on foreign policy is compounded by the hawkish foreign policy advisors she has surrounded herself with, the most important of which are Madeleine Albright, Richard Holbrooke, Lee Feinstein and Sandy Berger. Former Secretary of State Albright is the person who Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, once said, “She never met a military option she didn’t like. When I worked at Defense, she used to scare us.” When Colin Powell urged the new Clinton Administration not to bomb Bosnia too hastily, she countered, “What’s the use of having his superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” “I thought I would have an aneurysm,” Powell would later write.

Perhaps an even more problematic member of the Clinton foreign policy team is Richard Holbrooke, who Clinton insiders say would be the most likely Secretary of State in a new Clinton Administration. Holbrooke certainly is not short on foreign policy experience, having been an Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Ambassador to the U.N., but his track record should cause all progressives concern. Holbrooke, described by pundits as, “The raging bull of U.S. diplomacy,” cultivated and supported Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, supported Indonesia during its brutal occupation of East Timor and backed the generals behind the Kwangyi massacre in South Korea. He supported Bill Clinton’s signing a bill calling for “regime change” in Iraq — the predicate for the Bush/Cheney led invasion. Thanks to Richard and Bill, Bush and Cheney were able to say “regime change in Iraq is American policy.” In his last press conference as U.N. Ambassador, Holbrooke called Saddam Hussein, “a clear and present danger at all times,” and said the incoming Bush Administration, “will have to deal with this problem.” Supported by this push from the Clintons, Bush/Cheney and the neo-conservatives were only too happy to oblige. As late as December 2005, with the Iraq War collapsing around Bush/Cheney, when asked what he recommended in Iraq, Holbrooke responded, “I’m not prepared to lay out a detailed policy or strategy.” Holbrooke provides lots of experience and a great resume, but outstandingly bad judgment.

Lee Feinstein is rumored to be in line for the critical position of National Security Advisor in a new Clinton Administration. Like many Clinton foreign policy advisors, Feinstein enthusiastically supported invading Iraq and in April 2003, shortly after the invasion, confidently assured CNN that, “U.S. forces over time will find weapons of mass destruction and also find evidence of programs to build weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq, even when it was becoming apparent they would not. Feinstein expanded his theories of unilateral, pre-emptive intervention in an article he co-authored in Foreign Affairs, where he championed the “duty to prevent.” He argued that the U.S. should try to build coalitions, but that it can attack sovereign nations without support from allies. He went even further, arguing that Bush’s controversial, and internationally illegal, doctrine of preemptive war “does not go far enough.” The logic of his argument would be that his concept of widespread violations of international law is crucial to strengthening international law. We see, once again, that deep foreign policy experience is serving the Clinton advisors so well.

Other top Clinton foreign policy advisors, such as Kenneth Pollack, Jack Keane and Michael O’Hanlon, strongly supported President Bush’s troop surge in Iraq. This could be why, during Bush’s recent State of the Union address, when Bush claimed that the surge was a success, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.

It should be noted that not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a stone-cold hawk. General Wesley Clark and former ambassador Joseph Wilson have nuanced understandings of foreign policy, and neither supported the war in Iraq. Clark, in particular, understands not only the uses of military power, but also its limitations. I hope he will serve an important role in the next Democratic Administration, regardless of who wins the presidency. Experience is not always disabling.

In contrast to Senator Clinton, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, with public opinion running strongly in favor of invading Iraq, Obama openly challenged the Bush Administration’s exaggerated claims and astutely predicted that a war in Iraq would lead to an increase of Islamic extremism, terrorism and regional instability, as well as a decline in respect for America throughout the world. Obama is a case study of good judgment trumping a resume.

While nearly all of Senator Clinton’s stable of foreign policy advisors were strong supporters of Bush’s invasion of Iraq, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team opposed the U.S. invasion. Obama advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s National Security Advisor, warned that the international community would consider invasion of a nation which posed no threat to the U.S. would be an illegal act of aggression. Bzezinski said “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Another key foreign policy advisor to Senator Obama, Joseph Cirincione, argued that containing Saddam already had been achieved, saying, “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression.”

While Senator Clinton and most of her advisors have been strong supporters of virtually unlimited defense spending, some of Senator Obama’s key advisors, like Lawrence Korb, have expressed serious concerns about the enormous waste from excessive defense spending. While most of Senator Clinton’s advisors, like Madeleine Albright and Sandy Berger, have been strong supporters of globalization, some even being architects of it, Senator Obama’s advisors have raised questions. Susan Rice, an Obama advisor and an expert on Africa in the Clinton Administration, has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism.

Stephen Zunes, a foreign policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, comparing Senators Clinton and Obama, has written:

On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before acting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.

For those voters who want American foreign policy to continue to trend in the direction of muscularity and intervention, they have their candidate — Hillary Clinton. For those who want change in American foreign policy, who think American militarism and interventionism need to be scaled back, Senator Obama, and his foreign policy advisors, appear ready to begin those changes.

Hillary is Nasty But She is Not Tough

Hillary Clinton’s current ads seek to portray her as the tough leader who is ready on Day One to handle crises. Borrowing from a line made famous by Harry Truman, the tag line trumpets, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” The sub-text, of course, is that she will dish out a full plate of heat and if Obama can’t respond on her gutter level, he can’t handle heat.ᅠ

The truth is almost exactly the opposite. Hillary is nasty, but she is not tough. In fact, Hillary is a classic whiner. She and Bill whine about everything that doesn’t go well for them. Unlike Harry Truman, who also said, “the buck stops here,” she and Bill accept responsibility for nothing and blame others, especially the media, when things go wrong or their deceptions are exposed.ᅠ

Hillary and Bill whine about Democratic Party activists, young voters, running as a female, the media in general, the media catching her fabricating her history (bringing peace to Ireland, opposing NAFTA, facing sniper fire in Bosnia, etc.), the appeal of hope, Obama’s eloquence, money, donors, Democratic Party rules. Last week, Hillary blamed the “activist base” of the Democratic Party — and MoveOn, in particular — for many of her electoral defeats, claiming, without a shred of evidence, that activists had “flooded” state caucuses and “intimidated” her supporters. Rather than accept responsibility for her campaign’s well-documented failure adequately to plan for the caucus states, and despite her repeated claim she is the candidate “ready on Day One,” she attacked core Democratic Party supporters. Rather than take responsibility for her inability to inspire the activist base with her ideas, she whined about their support of a more thoughtful, inspirational candidate. Candidates normally celebrate high levels of voter activism in the primaries, knowing these activists will work for the party’s nominee in the general election, but Hillary is willing to burn the peasants in order to win the village for herself.

Hillary and Bill whine about young voters. Last week, Bill said in Pennsylvania that young voters are easily fooled and older voters are wiser — too wise to be fooled by Obama’s inspiring rhetoric. Of course, he forgot to mention that the most well-educated voters — young and old — heavily favor Obama over Hillary. Most candidates, and both political parties, yearn for support from young voters because young voters represent not just the present, but also the future. And, certainly if young voters were supporting Hillary, she wouldn’t be whining about them. But since she is not very good at inspiring young voters, she chooses to whine about them. Thankfully, she has not yet proposed raising the voting age to 60, but that could be next.

Hillary whines about being a female candidate, as though it’s harder to be female in America than black. Said Hillary, “It’s hard. It’s hard being a woman out there.” [Add some tears and the picture is complete] Her surrogate, Geraldine Ferraro, even made the wholly implausible claim that the only reason Obama was succeeding was his race — a claim Hillary never repudiated. Of course, at the same time the Clintons whine about misogyny, they argue to super-delegates that Obama is not electable because he is black and that, as a woman, she is the electable candidate. Neither Bill nor Hill can explain why all the white male Democratic Presidential candidates are out of the race. Could it be that Obama has demonstrated qualities to voters that the others lacked? Could it be that Obama has come from more than 20 points behind in just a few months because he offers qualities, such as hope and honesty, which voters, by large pluralities, think Hillary lacks?

Hillary frequently whines about the media not being “fair.” This is an old Clinton complaint, going back to her stone-walling about Travelgate, Whitewater and the revelations of Bill’s many sexual shenanigans. How unfair of the press to remember that she supported NAFTA, falsely claimed to have been a key negotiator in peace talks in Ireland, and lied about her Bosnia trip.

Caught dead-on lying about being under “sniper fire” as she landed in Bosnia — when absolutely no danger existed — she claimed she simply had “misspoke” [seven times?], then claimed she was tired by “lack of sleep,” then Bill chimed in to attack the media for even covering the story. This was all taking place as she asserted her competence to answer that mythical 3 am phone call. So if we believe the Clintons, her “lack of sleep” caused her to fabricate a story about landing in Bosnia into hostile sniper fire and risking her life like a seasoned military veteran, but this fabrication should be disregarded because, despite her history of sleep deprivation, if a crisis occurs at 3 am, we can trust her to be awake and alert and respond truthfully and with good judgment. With leadership like this, we’ll all be awake at night.

Hillary whines about Obama’s inspiration and eloquence. Hillary whines about the very nature of hope. Despite the Clintons’ history of playing the Hope Card (we all remember Bill’s 1992 campaign biopic, “The Man from Hope”), when the other guy is offering it, all of a sudden, hope is suspicious. In fact, it is downright delusional. “I could stand up here and say, let’s get everyone together, let’s get unified and the sky will open, the light will come down, celestial choirs will be singing, and the world will be perfect,” she said in mock sarcasm of Obama’s message of conciliation and hope.

Hillary whines about the fact Obama has engaged more donors and raised more money than she. Of course, she didn’t think it was unfair in 2007 when she had twice as much money as any other candidate. But as soon as she fell behind, Little Miss $100+ million War Chest was whining about being outspent. But isn’t the ability to inspire donors and raise money part of being a successful presidential candidate? Isn’t that a measure of electability, not something to be disdained?
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Hillary now is whining about Florida and Michigan, piously claiming that failing to seat delegates from those states would be fundamentally undemocratic. But when the Democratic National Committee’s rules panel declared Florida’s accelerated primary date was not permitted under party rules, all of Hillary’s 12 representatives on the 30 member rules panel voted for Florida’s full disenfranchisement, which, under party rules, applied to Michigan, as well. In October 2007, when she was far and away the Democratic front-runner, Hillary told a New Hampshire public radio audience, “It’s clear this election [Michigan] is not going to count for anything.” Oh, the sting of hypocrisy, but rather than accept responsibility for the obvious — that she supported the very rule she now attacks — she plays the “poor me” card and digs the Democratic Party into a deeper hole.

Do we want a whiner to be President? Commander-in-Chief? Do we want to live through more chapters in the never-ending, but never-changing, Clinton Drama of Blame, Attack and Half-Truths? Or do we prefer a president who has demonstrated candor, who is willing to treat voters like adults, who takes responsibility for his behavior and offers thoughtful commentary on serious issues — as Obama did with his former pastor? Do we want a president who behaves like a mature adult or someone whose emotional intelligence is on the level of a spoiled, whiny teenager?