For decades now, America's neoconservatives have pushed for higher military spending and baited their political opponents as being "soft" on whatever the enemy-of-the-day was: Moscow, Nicaragua, Cuba in the 1980s; al-Qaeda, Iraq, Iran, Libya in recent years.
The neocons happily smeared Americans who opposed the huge Pentagon budgets, tagging them as anti-American or disloyal. They were people who would "blame America first," as Ronald Reagan's neocon Ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, famously declared.
The neocons, who first rose to prominence under Reagan in the 1980s, also put fiscal responsibility in the back seat whenever the trade-off was more military spending. Indeed, Reagan's first budget director, David Stockman, has traced the origins of today's budget crisis, in part, to the neocon insistence on bloated Pentagon budgets.
Last year, in a New York Times op-ed entitled "Four Deformations of the Apocalypse," Stockman said one of those "deformations" resulted from the fact that "the neocons were pushing the military budget skyward."
Back then, however, Reagan could appease Washington's political factions, from Republicans wanting more tax cuts to Democrats defending social programs, by running big deficits. Reagan did target "welfare queens" and other unpopular groups for budget cuts but he essentially papered over the ideological differences with massive borrowing from foreign countries.
Today, however, as those deficits reach a crisis point, hard choices are finally being forced on the American political system. Yet, the neocons retain their place of extraordinary influence in Washington and are determined to keep military spending "skyward."
To do that, today's neocons are ready to make trade-offs that would shrink the social safety net for millions of Americans, including senior citizens whose lives depend on Medicare. For instance, Sen. Joe Lieberman, one of the leading neocons in Congress, has proposed raising the eligibility requirement for Medicare from 65 to 67.
While Lieberman suggests the change is a modest one, what it means for many Americans is that they will either face exorbitant fees from private insurers after turning 65 or go without insurance altogether and hope their health holds up for another two years.
As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has noted , "Not every 65- or 66-year-old denied Medicare would be able to get private coverage -- in fact, many would find themselves uninsured. So what would these seniors do?
"Well, as the health economists Austin Frakt and Aaron Carroll document, right now Americans in their early 60s without health insurance routinely delay needed care, only to become very expensive Medicare recipients once they reach 65.
"This pattern would be even stronger and more destructive if Medicare eligibility were delayed. As a result, Mr. Frakt and Mr. Carroll suggest, Medicare spending might actually go up, not down, under Mr. Lieberman's proposal."
Life or Death
But let's state this predicament more directly: What does it mean for a 65-year-old to postpone needed medical treatment and then get emergency care for acute problems once he or she finally qualifies for Medicare two years later? It means the person is going to survive in a much reduced condition -- or die.
A person who postpones treatment of a chronic illness like diabetes, hypertension or cancer can expect to face surgery, amputations, incapacity or early death. In other words, the neocons are willing to trade your health and your life for their higher military spending.
Like the old explanation of how the Nazis eliminated one group after another, you might say that the neocons first came for the welfare queens and since you weren't a welfare queen, you didn't protest; then they came for the people who needed subsidized housing or food stamps and since you weren't one of them, you stayed silent; and now they are coming for those of us who need Medicare and -- by now -- we are so divided and deluded that our protests can be overridden and ignored.
But why, you might ask, are the neocons so determined to maintain U.S. military spending at record levels -- even as the United States spends nearly as much on war and armaments as the rest of the world combined? Why must that spending be protected even at the cost of vital services for Americans?