Republicans, Democrats and spending the peace dividend

By Bruce Walker
web posted October 2, 2000

The memory of most people is frighteningly short. Conservatives, simply because their values do not change with each fad and fashion, tend to be more resistant to selective amnesia than liberals, but none of us are immune.

Consider those campaign battles that we consider the great issues of the day: tax cuts, national debt reduction, or dubious liberal investments; school vouchers, charter schools, or more billions into public school systems. These are, indeed, important to the future of our nation, but there are issues much grander and much more profound that these.

Ronald ReaganAs a conservative Ronald Reagan won my heart less because of his tax reform (which I applauded), or his judicial appointments (which have stood the test of time), but rather because in 1980 our nation faced a great, grave crisis: the Specter of militant, ruthless Soviet Communism did indeed - as Marx predicted - hung over Europe. The threat, of course, was not workers' revolution (few labor leaders thought Communism less than evil by 1980). The threat was not from steelworkers or coal miners or longshoremen overthrowing the system; these were the very men who saw in Ronald Reagan something noble and true. The Great Russians, dominators of the other Soviet Republics, had grabbed Afghanistan, spread subversion throughout the globe (we don't have to guess now; we have the GRU and KGB files to prove all we feared and more was true), and Jimmy Carter - despite loving his God, his wife, his country - was a liberal, and powerless to resist the evil that was then oozing over the planet. How soon we forget! How soon we feel ourselves invincible again!

Ronald Reagan's Cold War strategy was simple: "We win; they lose." In our guts, we conservatives knew that any man who stood tall enough in the saddle to fight this fight would win. He did. We won. And now the slick cowards like Clinton have largely spend away what was gained at much cost.

Ten years, more or less, after the Soviet Union imploded and President Bush demonstrated the impotence of evil faced down hard, we simply take the benefits for granted. Our nominal federal surpluses, the blooming global economy, this placid world that leads to wealth - these are the results of some lottery or chance. We conservatives won them by great moral commitment, opposed and ridiculed by liberals at every step (shameless liberals, as all of them are, who now forget ever equating America with Nazi Germany). One pleasant consequence of winning the Cold War is that we can safely reduce our defense expenditures a bit. Another is that the safety and security of nations, which is just as important to stable growth as safe and secure money supplies, has helped the whole world grow richer.

This peace dividend is usually viewed in just these terms: prosperity, budget surpluses, and low unemployment. The true benefit of the peace dividend is much greater; the true benefit of the peace dividend is the preservation and expansion of every variety of human freedom without the horrors of war.

Republicans understand this, and we should remind the voters that national defense could very quickly become the most important issue in the lives of millions of Americans. We conservatives with a few gray hairs remember liberal ranting about gold-plating the military. Yet giving our fighting men the highest technology available meant that we could win wars with tax dollars instead of soldiers' blood. Star Wars level training and motivated volunteer military forces meant that no nations wanted to go nose to nose with us. And the gutsiness of Ronald Reagan and George Bush make every Hitler wannabe blink and run.

The flowchart is simple, but easy to forget: investment in strength keeps freedom safe without the terrible destruction of war. Mothers, fathers, wives, and children may think today that schools are more important that cutting edge military technology manned by expert soldiers with high morale - until war or the threat of losing freedom without war descends, and then every domestic policy seems instantly trivial.

Americans and conservatives can debate what our military role should be in the world. Should we compel our prosperous democracies to shoulder more of the burdens, especially in their own regions? Or should we intervene when tyrants murder and terrorize, even if we act alone? Should we focus on a deep strike conventional attack force, build around stealth airplanes and brilliant missiles? Or should we favor a highly survivable naval force that can defend our hemisphere and project literal power? These issues involve the role and use of weapons, not the possession of strength itself. In football games, fans and armchair quarterbacks will guess and second guess tactics; no one, however, will question that the athletes should be strong, fast, tough, and motivated.

America today is the Arnold Schwartzenegger of the world: a direct result of broad and unbending conservative pressure. Liberals, who have lost every intellectual and moral argument of the last century, hope that this clear distinction between liberals and conservatives will be blurred with the mush and gossip that passes these days for thought and argument. We conservatives have a duty not to let the debate over national strength flaw off the radar screen. It is the most important victory that the Gipper gave us, and it is one that any Republican for any federal office can - and must - hammer day and night until the last vote is cast in November.

The costs of good nations growing weak and hesitant is too obvious for anyone to misunderstand: Hitler, World War Two, and the Holocaust; Stalin, Cold War, and the Gulag; Mao, Vietnam, and Khmer and Tibetan genocide. What liberal could lift his soft, pink, sensitive hand in protest to a virile policy which condemns all these nightmares to the past forever? What conservative can not stand behind America keeping its muscles big, hard, and well defined?

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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