The Skeptics

“Socialism,” Republican Style

There’s been a lot of talk on the right in recent months about President Obama’s “socialist” policies. While much of that talk seems overheated, so does the furious pushback from the left. Would President Obama’s domestic policies really be so out of step in what in Europe would be called a “Social Democratic” party? I don’t think so. But for understandable Hartzian reasons, lots of American liberals seem to get squeamish about allegations of socialism.

However, Republicans may want to examine the plank in their own eyes before casting aspersions on the one in the eyes of Democrats. Military Keynesianism has long been a centerpiece in the Republican platform, and it still is. I have remarked at this phenomenon before on Cato’s blog, noting that Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has railed against all manner of spending except military spending, deeming the latter “good spending.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Virginia has been one of the largest and most disproportionate beneficiaries of military and intelligence spending, with defense spending accounting for 1 in 5 Virginia jobs according to the Washington Post.

An even starker reminder of Republicans’ love of one particular flavor of Big Government was a quote from Texas Governor Rick Perry’s spokeswoman, published in the Dallas Morning News. The author of the article, Dave Michaels, centered the piece on the Texas economy’s dependence on military-related jobs and how cuts in military spending would hurt Texas. Michaels pinged Perry’s office and got this:

Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Perry, says defense "is different" than other kinds of federal spending.

"It's not just throwing money at a problem," Nashed said. "It's actually creating jobs, allowing people to make a livelihood."

By this definition, though, what is “just throwing money at a problem?” Pretty much everything the government does “creates jobs” which “allow people to make a livelihood.” It’s pretty striking that Nashed didn’t even gesture at an argument about the threat environment and make the case that the threat environment justifies the particular military-related jobs in Texas. Instead, military spending is good simply because it’s “creating jobs, allowing people to make a livelihood.” If this sort of thinking reflects the “limited government” faction in American politics, that’s pretty remarkable.

In other Republican foreign policy news, Rep. Eric Cantor is attempting to re-brand aid to Israel as something other than “foreign aid” for fear that a prospective Republican congress may look to cut spending for foreign aid. Cantor warned JTA that Republican antipathy for foreign aid may jeopardize aid to Israel, and the article notes that creating a special category of aid for Israel has always been opposed by American advocates for Israel because

pro-Israel activists see aid for Israel as inextricably bound with the broader interest of countering isolationism; elevating Israel above other nations might be counterproductive in an American electorate still made up of diverse ethnic groups; and such a designation would make Israel more beholden to U.S. policy and erode its independence.

Lots of people have suggested that the Tea Party people will transform the Republican Party. I’m not so sure. But if there is movement on either military spending or aid to Israel, it would be a striking sign that change has indeed occurred.