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Solomon writes: "With Democrats in a House majority for the first time in eight years, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and most other party leaders continue to support even more largesse for the Pentagon. But many progressive Congress members are challenging the wisdom of deference to the military-industrial complex – and, so far, they’ve been able to stall the leadership’s bill that includes a $17 billion hike in military spending for 2020."

Pelosi speaks to the press in the Capitol Visitor Center on December 13, 2018. (photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Pelosi speaks to the press in the Capitol Visitor Center on December 13, 2018. (photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Toxic Lure of “Guns and Butter”

By Norman Solomon, Reader Supported News

15 April 19


he current political brawl over next year’s budget is highly significant. With Democrats in a House majority for the first time in eight years, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and most other party leaders continue to support even more largesse for the Pentagon. But many progressive congressmembers are challenging the wisdom of deference to the military-industrial complex – and, so far, they’ve been able to stall the leadership’s bill that includes a $17 billion hike in military spending for 2020.

An ostensible solution is on the horizon. More funds for domestic programs could be a quid pro quo for the military increases. In other words: more guns and more butter.

“Guns and butter” is a phrase that gained wide currency during escalation of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s. Then, as now, many Democrats made political peace with vast increases in military spending on the theory that social programs at home could also gain strength.

It was a contention that Martin Luther King Jr. emphatically rejected. “When a nation becomes obsessed with the guns of war, social programs must inevitably suffer,” he pointed out. “We can talk about guns and butter all we want to, but when the guns are there with all of its emphasis you don’t even get good oleo [margarine]. These are facts of life.”

But today many Democrats in Congress evade such facts of life. They want to proceed as though continuing to bestow humongous budgets on the Pentagon is compatible with fortifying the kind of domestic spending that they claim to fervently desire.

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have reflexively promoted militarism that is out of step with the party’s base. In early 2018, after President Trump called for a huge 11 percent increase over two years for the already-bloated military budget, Pelosi declared in an email to House Democrats: “In our negotiations, Congressional Democrats have been fighting for increases in funding for defense.” Meanwhile, the office of Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer proudly announced: “We fully support President Trump’s Defense Department’s request.”

What set the stage for the latest funding battle in the House was a Budget Committee vote that approved the new measure with the $17 billion military boost. It squeaked through the committee on April 3 with a surprising pivotal “yes” vote from Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who is now among the lawmakers pushing to amend the bill on the House floor to add $33 billion in domestic spending for each of the next two years.

As Common Dreams reported last week, progressives in the House “are demanding boosts in domestic social spending in line with the Pentagon’s budget increase.” But raising domestic spending in tandem with military spending is no solution, any more than spewing vastly more carcinogenic poisons into the environment would be offset by building more hospitals.

Rep. Ro Khanna and Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal, who both voted against the budget bill in committee, have said they won’t vote for it on the House floor. In Khanna’s words, “You can’t oppose endless wars and then vote to fund them.” Jayapal said: “We need to prioritize our communities, not our military spending. Progressives aren’t backing down from this fight.”

The New York Times described the intra-party disagreement as “an ideological gap between upstart progressives flexing their muscles and more moderate members clinging to their Republican-leaning seats.” But that description bypassed how the most powerful commitment to escalation of military spending comes from Democratic leaders representing deep blue districts – in Pelosi’s case, San Francisco. Merely backing a budget that’s not as bad as Trump’s offering is a craven and immoral approach.

Sen. Bernie Sanders’ staff director, Warren Gunnels, responded cogently days ago when he tweeted: “How can we keep giving more money to the Pentagon than it needs when 40 million live in poverty, 34 million have no health insurance, half of older Americans have no retirement savings, and 140 million can’t afford basic needs without going into debt? This is insanity.”

Yet most top Democrats keep promoting the guns-and-butter fantasy while aiding and abetting what Dr. King called “the madness of militarism.”

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Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of He is the author of a dozen books, including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. your social media marketing partner


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+16 # futhark 2019-04-15 22:43
This situation is made even more toxic by the reality for many communities that guns ARE butter. The military-indust rial-complex has maneuvered itself into being perceived as being economically essential to these communities. Some may recall the uproar caused by the closure of military bases in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union and how well-meaning members of Congress worked to placate constituents by trying to keep the bases in their districts open, even in the absence of any conceivable threat of hostile military action. This was a close call for the MIC, which set its more creative minds into discovering that Saddam Hussein, our previous ally against Iran, was now a threat to our security and even our existence.

The only effective manner in which this situation can be made right is to engineer a policy revolution, in which the real enemy, environmental degradation, becomes the target of a massive concerted national effort that will create jobs supporting sustainable and secure conditions of peace and prosperity.
+9 # 2019-04-15 23:28
Very important article. I applaud those holding the line on more military-indust rial spending. I am also waiting to know who will demand review, reform, and should they continue, valid, reliable, and verifiable oversight of the Intel Apparatus. The CIA must be OUT of our universities and medical schools but for teaching as retirees and job fairs (with full disclosure). Foreign agents in our universities must be watched for but the FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. have already morphed insidiously, dangerously, and should be reviewed and with oversight now, not further "monitoring" our universities. Another new entity should be specifically created for this job. I protest in Miami in these regards if anyone wants to join me. More at my site. Protest wherever you are, before it is too late.
+10 # RLF 2019-04-16 05:39
Schumer and Pelosi strike again, standing for a moderate version of repubicanism or maybe really standing for nothing at all but their own advancement!
+13 # economagic 2019-04-16 06:25
The MIC Dems long ago became Republicans -- 1996 (DLC), or 1966 (Viet Nam "escalation," right after the Voting Rights Act, which was largely repealed by Supreme Court justices for whom Democrats had voted in force).

Solution: REDUCE the Pentagon Budget by 15 percent per year for the next ten years. That would reduce it to about 20 percent of its current level and begin to fund the mobilization to keep Planet Eaarth (McKibben) habitable by humans.

Better still, reduce it by 80 percent THIS year and let's get to work.

But of course neither of these proposals is "realistic," both are outside the "Overton Window." Time to break that window once and for all.
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-04-17 06:12
Agree completely. We are not at war. There is no reason for the military budget. We have wars only to justify the budget. Take away the budget and the wars would end.
+4 # AldoJay69 2019-04-16 07:59
There's little that I know,
there's much that I don't know.

I know that voting for excess Pentagon spending is back-scratching -for-colleagues since "the P" spends loosely in many districts.

Pelosi's vote, Schumer"s vote can be cashed later, when the colleague's support is needed.

Is there more to it than this?
+9 # The Eternal Optimist 2019-04-16 08:12
We have allowed a corporate oligarchy not only to nearly ruin our nation, but our world as well. The central component of that oligarchy is the Congressional/M ilitary/Industr ial Complex, which has not only spread weapons of death and perpetual war across the globe, but impoverished our citizenry in the process, while enriching a few people far beyond the bounds of decency, with money that is vastly in excess of our real military needs, and desperately needed for social programs and infrastructure.

We have allowed all this; now we must disallow it (we are still [barely]a democracy). Or perish. Unbelievably, we have ignored these realities for so long that it may actually be too late to save ourselves from catastrophic consequences. But we'd better try.
+14 # jwb110 2019-04-16 09:59
Why isn't the Democratic Party running the Eisenhower's speech about not running for another term as President when he warmed the nation about the "Military/Indus trial Complex". Here was a Republican telling the Nation to be suspect of that Complex. It was a warning and A warning from a General and then President who was a lifelong Republican.
Hell, if I can think of this the Dems should be able to!
+1 # banichi 2019-04-17 00:28
Yes - same reason the Democrats don't want to remember what retired Marine Major General Smedley Butler (2-time Medal of Honor recipient) said in 1933, about the same time as FDR got the banks reined in with the Glass-Steagall act. Butler made a speech where he laid out the facts behind a short phrase: "War is a Racket!" He put it in a short pamphlet, as well as a filmed speech you can find on Wikipedia.

It's rarely spoken about, and the Democratic Party Establishment politicians who like to give money to the Pentagon and the 3-letter agencies, never talk about it. Too much money and power ends up in their pockets to do anything else with some real integrity and responsibility to the people they supposedly are there to represent.
+6 # PABLO DIABLO 2019-04-16 10:31
The USA Military is the biggest polluter on the planet Earth and you want to give them more money. CRAZY. Gotta keep the War Machine well fed so it can continue to buy politicians who support War. Time to vote out the Pelosi, Schumer, bunch and vote in the Progressives. The War Machine has been the "end of Empire" forever. 1% of our Military budget would give everyone free college. What do you want to invest in?????
0 # Rodion Raskolnikov 2019-04-17 06:15
PD -- you've got it. The people who want to end our dependence on carbon fuel never mention the pentagon, which is the biggest single consumer of carbon fuel on earth. And most of the Pentagon's wars have been about the control or conquest of oil. The oiligarchy that rules the world right now has been brought to us by the Pentagon.

You can't have a Green New Deal without dealing with the Pentagon, the biggest polluter on earth.

"What do you want to invest in????"

The answer to that question is who gets to make the decision. It is certainly not the people.
+6 # Anne Frank 2019-04-16 12:17
The government does not spend our tax money on guns or butter. It borrows the money to buy guns and butter, and taxes us to pay the interest on the principal, and the interest on the interest. The U.S. government no longer serves the people of the U.S., but serves the international financial pirates that own the government.
0 # yolo 2019-04-21 12:51
And where does the money come from that our government borrows? It is created by the federal reserve by punching a few keys into a computer because it is told to by our government. The reason for taxes is to reduce the amount of money in circulation. In essence our government can create and remove money because it has a monopoly on creating the money we all use. Create too much and you get inflation, remove too much you get deflation. Finding the balance is key.

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