This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.
As French journalist and novelist Anatole France so aptly wrote in his 1894 novel The Red Lily, "In its majestic equality, the law forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal loaves of bread." More than a century and a quarter later, that could easily have been written by Mitch McConnell and pals, or just about any Republican president since Ronald Reagan. Yes, the law couldn't be more equal for the rich and the poor when it comes to sleeping under bridges, just not, in the America of 2021, when it comes to taxes and wealth.
If you want a slogan for our moment, how about "Inequality Is Us"? After all, in terms of wealth and income, things have been growing ever less equal in recent decades. In 2017, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell did their best to give away the shop to America's wealthiest crew, offering them, and the corporations they're often associated with, tax cuts from heaven, a genuine "windfall" for the 1%. And America's billionaires responded appropriately by making an almost inconceivable further fortune amid the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As for the U.S. military, it's now a money-making operation of the first order and I'm not just thinking about the way the Pentagon budget always rises (even when Congress hasn't been able to fund the most basic American infrastructure), amid almost 20 years of failing wars in distant lands. I mean, just consider a figure like Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who at one point commanded this country's disastrous military operations in Iraq and then, as the head of U.S. Central Command, oversaw most of our losing wars. In 2016, he "retired" from the military, only to join the board of directors of the weapons maker Raytheon. In the process, he would reportedly rake in somewhere between $800,000 and $1.7 million, thanks to stocks he received from that outfit and two spinoff companies before heading back through that classic military-industrial-congressional revolving door to Washington to work for President Biden.
It's in this context that TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon considers what the true third rails of American politics are. Watch out, if you're a politician, you don't want to touch either of them! Tom
Social Security Versus National Security
Whose Entitlement Really Makes Us Safer?
These days my conversations with friends about the new administration go something like this:
"Biden's doing better than I thought he would."
"Yeah. Vaccinations, infrastructure, acknowledging racism in policing. A lot of pieces of the Green New Deal, without calling it that. The child subsidies. It's kind of amazing."
"But on the military-"
"Yeah, same old, same old."
As my friends and I have noticed, President Joe Biden remains super-glued to the same old post-World War II agreement between the two major parties: they can differ vastly on domestic policies, but they remain united when it comes to projecting U.S. military power around the world and to the government spending that sustains it. In other words, the U.S. "national security" budget is still the third rail of politics in this country.
Assaulting the Old New Deal
It was Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill who first declared that Social Security is "the third rail" of American politics. In doing so, he metaphorically pointed to the high-voltage rail that runs between the tracks of subways and other light-rail systems. Touch that and you'll electrocute yourself.
O'Neill made that observation back in 1981, early in Ronald Reagan's first presidential term, at a moment when the new guy in Washington was already hell-bent on dismantling Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal legacy.
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