Analysis: Why Obama can—and must—cut defense spending
The Cold War is over, the national budget is overstretched, and voters are on board. Will the president follow through on his chance to shrink the Pentagon?
There were so many encouraging signs for liberals in the election results this year that one of the most significant has been overlooked. For the first time in my memory, a Democratic candidate for president argued for less military spending against a Republican candidate who called for great increases -- and the Democrat won. George McGovern was the last Democratic candidate to talk about spending less on the military. Subsequently, every Democratic presidential candidate was told that he had better look sufficiently tough on national security because a perception that Democrats were too weak vis-à-vis the Soviet Union was a major point of vulnerability. That is why Michael Dukakis, a public official with an extremely distinguished record, and a man of great dignity and integrity, staged an ill-conceived photo-op of himself wearing a helmet and riding in a tank, which became a negative factor in his campaign.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 reduced this pressure to some degree. Indeed, Bill Clinton was able to follow George H.W. Bush in beginning to reverse the enormous buildup in military spending dating to the Reagan Administration. The restraint on military spending that occurred was a significant factor in Clinton's ability to reach balanced budgets in his last years.