I have a simple question for Robert Gibbs, the outspoken press secretary of the Obama administration who recently told the "professional left" to quit criticizing the president. Yes, the president has successfully pushed through some major legislation on health care and financial reform, has negotiated an important arms control treaty with Russia, and has brought a measure of intelligence back to the White House. Still, I have a question.
Robert, where's our money?
The Obama administration has bailed out the banks. It has bailed out a couple too-big-to-fail corporations. It has bailed out the insurance companies with the generous provisions of the health care reform.
And it has bailed out the biggest barrel of pork of them all: the Pentagon. Sure, Pentagon chief Robert Gates wants to cut $100 billion in overhead costs over five years. And the defense sector is bracing for thousands of job cuts. But the Pentagon won't actually cut its overall spending. It will simply use those savings for its other missions, namely fighting wars. Pentagon spending for 2011 is projected to rise 3.4 percent. And that doesn't even include the $159 billion to cover the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq.
With all those dollars for "defense," where's our money? Let's put it in starker terms. The money we need to create jobs at home is going to fund a war in Afghanistan where just as many U.S. soldiers have now died under Obama as under Bush and civilian casualties have surged by 30 percent in the first six months of 2010. The money we need to repair our infrastructure is being used to build Cold War weapons systems that are so unnecessary even the Pentagon opposes a number of them. The money we need to deal with climate change and the energy crisis is going to secret military missions like the one in Yemen where an air strike in May killed a provincial governor who was trying to convince al-Qaeda members to surrender.
We've bailed out the big boys. We've bailed out the Pentagon. We've even bailed out the people the Pentagon is fighting! The Taliban is skimming off as much as $1 billion a year in protection money from the shipments we send to the troops in Afghanistan. For the last several years, we've been bailing out our previous enemies, the Sunni insurgents in Iraq, to the tune of $300 a month (though al-Qaeda is now reportedly offering better rates).
So, where's our money? Where's the money that is supposed to put people to work and rebuild the U.S. economy?
The United States is still in the middle of a major economic crisis, with the unemployment rate at just under 10 percent. The Obama administration pushed through an $800 billion-plus economic stimulus package, but half of the infrastructure investment hasn't been paid out yet. Although most economists agree that the government should provide more stimulus money to avoid a double-dip crisis, there is no political support in Washington for a serious jobs bill. Instead, deficit-reduction fever has descended on Washington, and the Obama administration is willing to put almost everything on the cutting table, including Social Security.
And yet the Obama administration refuses to put the largest source of discretionary spending - the military - on the chopping block. Robert Gibbs accused the "professional left" of not being happy until the Pentagon is abolished. Actually, if he would simply read our latest Unified Security Budget, he would see that we are calling for a sensible reduction in military spending. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition. We call for $75 billion in reductions in military spending and redirecting those funds to diplomacy and economic development abroad, short-term investments into education and infrastructure improvements at home, and long-term deficit reduction.
Where's our money - that's not a question just from the "professional left." The American public's number one concern is the economy, and the vast majority of citizens have become pessimistic about the war in Afghanistan. Shifting money out of the Pentagon and into human needs, out of Afghanistan and into job creation at home, is a popular position. "Where's our money" is the cry of a new populism that, unfortunately, is represented at the moment by the "professional right," the organizations that are funding and framing the tea-party rage, the birthers, the anti-gun-control crowd, the Palinites, and all the other fringe elements that see government as an elite conspiracy against the little guy.
All of Obama's legislative victories, all the fine rhetoric about improving U.S. standing in the world - this will mean nothing at the polls. If the Obama administration doesn't turn around the economy fast and extract our soldiers from overseas quagmires, it will lose its congressional mandate and then, in 2012, its hold on the White House. If Robert Gibbs can't answer the simple question - where's our money - voters will do what they usually do in elections and let their pocketbooks determine their choices.
The result, like the U.S. economy at the moment, will not be pretty. In a word: refudiation.