In a speech at Cato, Rasmussen used the analogy of the Battle of Lexington
in 1775, the first in our Revolutionary War, which came 18 months before
the Declaration of Independence by America’s political leaders.
He cited case after case where public opinion was way ahead of Washington’s
Rasmussen’s book is full of interesting statistics and rebuttals
of prevailing Washington wisdom. Only 35% of Americans share the Republican
view of cutting everything except defense. He explains that “respect
and admiration for our troops exists alongside doubts about the jobs
they’ve been asked to do.” He cautions that Americans are
turned off by attacks on the military such as those during the Vietnam
War. But attacking Washington for misuse of the military could sell
very well. Washington has made commitments to defend 56 nations, but
the public only supports protecting 12; indeed, only four garner over
60% support. These are Canada with 80%, England with 74%, Australia
with 65%, and Israel with 60%. Half of the 12 are in Western Europe;
the others include Mexico (53%), South Korea (59%), and Panama and
the Bahamas (58%).
Other interesting statistics: 75% believe that no American troops
should be stationed overseas except for “vital national security interests.” Only
11% support an American role as “global policeman.” The
national security budget pays for 800,000 civilians in addition to
the military personnel, but these people are not viewed as favorably
as soldiers themselves are.
Most Americans are not isolationists. Sixty percent think America
should remain involved with international institutions such as the
United Nations, but 55% want us to withdraw our troops from Western
Europe (only 28% support keeping them there). The author repeatedly
compares the public’s thinking with that of the political class in Washington
and New York. For example, he says, “no one in the political
class has advocated such a policy.”
“Protect America First,” rather than “Send Americans
First,” is the preferred policy by far of most voters. Troops
must only be committed as a last resort and only with clear, feasible
objectives. The author sees vast potential savings in a defensive rather
than offensive military, as does, for example, candidate Ron Paul.
Aircraft carriers, of which we have about 20 squadrons, for example,
are now very vulnerable to new anti-ship weaponry. Medical insurance
for veterans for life is costing some $45 billion yearly. About 700,000
men and women who served in the First Gulf War are now getting disability
benefits that add up to more billions. An Air Force more focused on
defense rather than offense would save tens of billions each year.
The book anticipates that only the leadership is lacking for big cuts
in the Defense/Homeland Security budget and that a new candidate who
is able to articulate the issues (and has military credentials, I would
add) will gain vast political support in the future. I do recommend
that readers actually watch Eisenhower’s farewell address about
the military-industrial complex. It is an extraordinarily well-crafted
and erudite speech, far, far above the kind of talks given by most
Rasmussen is especially interesting in that his polling asks the right
questions. Reading his conclusions makes one wonder if most polling
by the political class is actually designed to obfuscate the real beliefs
of voters, which are opposed to most of what Washington does. His polling
shows that voters are intelligent people when asked more profound questions.
The author covers much more than just defense spending, including how
voters would reform health care, corporate welfare, taxes, and so on.
The constant theme is that voters are not dumb — he comments
about how the political class deprecates most voters — but Washington’s
system prevents logical reforms.
Here are several points:
• 69% want competition in health care and 78% of Americans
want competition in coverage between insurance companies, but Washington
is focused on preventing anything that would cut into the profits
of the medical establishment (and the lawyers who sue them).
• 68% prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes; just
22% want more services and higher taxes.
• 79% of mainstream voters think Americans are over-taxed.
• Voters overwhelmingly believe their so-called representatives listen
more to party leaders and lobbyists than to voters in their districts;
59% believe that most are re-elected because the rules are rigged
in their favor.
• 56% believe that growth in government spending should be limited
yearly to reflect only the growth in population plus inflation.
• Voters overwhelmingly believe the game in Washington is a form of legalized
extortion and that businesspeople give money to politicians because they’re
afraid of what will happen to them if they don’t.
• The majority always vote for candidates promising to lower or not
raise taxes; they are almost always betrayed by the political class
of both parties.
• Whether kings or elected politicians rule, wars and crises have always
been an excuse for more taxes, which then remain after the war is over. As Thomas
Paine wrote, “I know not whether taxes are raised to fight
wars, or wars are started in order to raise taxes.”
In summary the author’s polling shows that Americans have pretty realistic
views of the world and realistic assumptions about American strengths and weaknesses.
However, he may still underestimate the power of the political class to continue
its rule. Wars are very profitable for many interests and an easy way to channel
money from defense contractors to politicians through political donations to
their re-election campaigns. (Anywhere else in the world this would be thought
of as bribery). The Roman and British Empires saw vast poverty among most of
their citizens (see Trade
Guilds of the Latter Roman Empire). Empire was mainly
supported by their “political classes” too, not the mass of their
people, but then their citizens didn’t have much voice. In 19th-century
England, only 4% of people could vote for parliament. Anyway, optimists
can take heart from this book that America is not on the road to ruin.
Jon Basil Utley archives
A version of this article appeared in the March 1, 2012 edition of
American Conservative magazine's blog.
© 2012 by Jon Basil Utley and reason
.com. All rights reserved.