Politics & Policy

Perfect Together: Social and Defense Conservatives

By rejoining forces, they could renew American strength and resolve.

During the Cold War, cultural traditionalists and strong-defense advocates worked closely together, defending what Russell Kirk called “the permanent things” against attack, both foreign and domestic.

Their conviction that the fortress of freedom requires not only military might but also a moral foundation found bipartisan support at the highest levels of the land. In 1958, Dwight Eisenhower observed, “The stronger we become spiritually, the safer our civilization.” Two years later, fellow Cold Warrior John F. Kennedy declared: “This is not a struggle for supremacy of arms alone — it is also a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies: freedom under God versus ruthless, Godless tyranny.”

#ad#Ronald Reagan echoed these sentiments in 1981: “Our intellectual and spiritual values are rooted in . . . a belief in a Supreme Being, and a law higher than our own.”

But since the 1970s, the departure of social conservatives and their defense allies from the Democratic party has been so dramatic that most Democrats now bristle at Reagan’s portrayal of America as “a shining city upon a hill.” Indeed, their party has become almost indistinguishable from the global Left, which not only judges the United States a fundamentally flawed society but also demands our “transformation” into the politically correct likeness of Western Europe — militarily weak, socially liberal, and blatantly secular.

Five years into the Obama era, it’s time for these natural allies to reforge their alliance in order to renew American strength and resolve. President Obama mocks American exceptionalism, even as his 2015 budget — by downsizing America’s defense-industrial base and upsizing its welfare system — leaves the United States vulnerable to rising threats from Iran, China, and Russia.

The budget numbers say it all. President Obama is seeking a far steeper military downsizing than the one implemented by President Clinton, cutting defense-related spending from 4.8 percent of GDP in 2010 to 2.8 percent by 2017. And if Congress reinstates sequestration in 2016, defense would suffer even further gouging.

Though the Pentagon is putting on a brave face, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel concedes that “Our future force will assume additional risks in certain areas.” That’s an understatement. The military brass rightly assumes that future conflicts and wars may rely less on Army and Marine boots-on-the-ground capability, but the Obama budget also means a smaller Navy cruiser force, a slowdown in shipbuilding, and a clipping of the Air Force’s wings, including the forced retirement of the fabled A-10 Warthog (a plane specially reinforced to provide close air support to ground troops).

This is no way to maintain a superpower, especially in a time of economic stagnation. From the Civil War through the Cold War, defense-related spending triggered technological breakthroughs that in turn boosted GDP and living standards, while creating millions of the kinds of “family-wage” jobs that are in short supply today.

Unfortunately, we have been shifting resources from defense to means-tested welfare for 20 years. Outlays for welfare and Medicaid programs exceeded defense expenditures in every year of President Clinton’s second term — a pattern that has become permanent under Obama.

The president anticipates spending $844 billion on federal welfare programs in 2015, a whopping 4.6 percent of projected GDP. In comparison, President Reagan whittled federal welfare spending to 2.2 percent of GDP in his second term. To put it another way, in 1985 we spent nearly two and a half times as many dollars on defense as on welfare, but if Obama gets his way, next year we’ll be spending 35 percent more on welfare than on defense. And that doesn’t count state-level welfare spending, which accounts for the highest single line-item of state budgets.

As some social conservatives have warned for years, the trading of strategic-defense investments for a mess of welfare pottage does little for the country — or its middle class. John Mueller, for example, has established that every 1 percent rise in welfare spending relative to national income correlates with about a 2 percent decrease in the labor-force participation rate of men. The former economic aide to Jack Kemp has also established that boosts in per capita government social spending depress U.S. fertility rates, an overlooked component of American strength.

The only Americans left to challenge this dangerous state of affairs are the Republican party’s social-conservative and defense camps. Both embrace the best of American ideals, from reverence for life to loyalty to God and country. They stand without apology for the U.S. military — and the robust industrial base needed to sustain it — which draws heavily from Middle America to fill its ranks, because they know we need red-state patriots, not blue-state globalists.

And they understand that a nation uniquely espousing “freedom under God” must avoid defeat anywhere in the world. As Abraham Lincoln warned in his First Inaugural Address: “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.”

That’s a high standard to which we must rally. But by rejoining forces, social conservatives and defense hawks could restore America’s national security and economic vitality — and the GOP’s fortunes as well.

— Robert W. Patterson served in the administrations of President George W. Bush and Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.

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