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parsing public opinion
By Narrow Margin, Americans Want More Defense Spending

Americans are now more supportive of increased defense spending than at any time since the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, according to a new Gallup survey, with 37 percent answering that the government should spend more on the military, 31 percent answering that it should spend less, and the remainder answering that current spending levels are appropriate.

In the majority of the years that the question has been asked, Americans have indicated that the defense budget is too large. But as Gallup points out in its write-up, support for an expanded defense budget has tended to exceed support for defense cuts at the beginning of Republican administrations—first Ronald Reagan’s, then George W. Bush’s, and now Donald Trump’s. This could be because GOP presidents tend to mold public opinion or because the public reaches for Republican government when it feels spending levels are perceived as insufficient.

President Trump’s recently-released spending plan calls for a roughly 10 percent increase to America’s $549 billion defense budget, which his administration has pitched as a major reinvestment, but which has drawn criticism from John McCain for being too modest and which actually is closely in line with President Obama’s requested military spending for 2018.

Significantly, most of the demand for rising defense spending has come from Republicans, who briefly flirted with a kind of doctrinaire small-government libertarianism while Rand Paul seemed like a rising star in the party in 2012 and 2013. Since then, according to Gallup, support for a bigger military budget among Republicans has shot up from 42 to 62 percent (and from 22 to 34 percent among independents), while Democratic support has remained mostly flat—ticking up modestly from 12 to 15 percent. On the Republican side, at least, Thomas Jefferson is out, and Andrew Jackson is back in.

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  • Disappeared4x

    Thomas Jefferson would have supported a bigger USNavy fleet, especially more Littoral Combat Ships and Marine Expeditionary Units with Amphibious Assault ships. Andrew Jackson would most likely still be a Democrat on defense spending.

    • LarryD

      Give the Devil his due, Jackson organized the defense of New Orleans, which successfully repulsed the British. Jacksonians are generally all in on military preparedness, and when a war starts, they want us to win it. This usually involves smashing the opposition flat, which offends modern sensibilities.

      • Disappeared4x

        Excellent points, especially Jacksonians want to win wars. Just wanted to give Jefferson credit for supporting the US Navy, and establishing America’s commitment to freedom of navigation, and opposition to piracy, a legacy that has endured.

        When I wrote my original comment, I was thinking of President Jackson’s foreign policy, not his past military leadership. Somehow, could not type the words: Jackson would have built a Wall to secure Texas for Americans …

        • Jim__L

          Jackson wouldn’t have built a fence. He’d have marched on Mexico City.

          As for illegal immigrants, he’d have had the army round them up and made them walk back to Mexico.

  • Suzy Dixon

    That’s because defense is important and it connects to real jobs, including high-paying private sector jobs.

    • Jim__L

      Not only that, it leads to cutting-edge research (including basic science) in fields that would be neglected by the private sector as “not sufficiently remunerative in the near-term”.

      Google has, over the past few years, severely curtailed its “20% projects” that allowed its Smart Creative workers a great deal of leeway in spending a bit of their time to pursue creative projects that did not have clear direction from above or a clear business case. Some of these projects — Gmail, for instance — have become wildly successful, and quite profitable. However, the days when Google supported this sort of research are basically gone now.

      Silicon Valley itself was originally built on Defense spending. Miniaturized electronics (for guidance systems), the Internet itself, those were originally Defense-related projects. Even the “microcomputer” PC owes its existence to men like Jerry Wozniak, the electrical engineer defense contractor whose home environment made his son Steve Wozniak a technical wizard.

      Ever since we started spending more money a decade ago on bombs, bullets, boots, and bandages, technical Defense spending in many fields has been curtailed, leaving America’s technological edge significantly dulled.

      Trump’s proposal could go a long way to reversing that trend, without getting us entangled (preventing us from becoming entangled!) in foreign wars we don’t intend to win.

      • Disappeared4x

        Not clear to me if Defense has other research labs like DARPA. Most basic research seems to be in DoEnergy. Have you seen this, about the National Laboratories which report to DoEnergy?
        https://clearpath.org/jays-take/my-2%C2%A2-to-energy-secretary-rick-perry

        ClearPath: “Energy drives everything that we do and for the longest time, the left has owned that debate. It’s time for us to take that back. It’s time for a conservative clean energy agenda.

        At ClearPath we believe in America’s entrepreneurial spirit. One that builds new technologies, not just for America, but for the whole world. We need a real debate that leads to real solutions. We need fewer top down government policies and more focus on working with free markets rather than against them.”

    • FriendlyGoat

      An amazing insight from the side which—–when convenient for other arguments—–insists that government never created a job.

      • Jim__L

        Funny, most defense contractors are structured as private industry…

        • FriendlyGoat

          Dang, Jim, the paying customer is government. The paying customer creates all jobs. Government is a huge indispensable customer. Some “private industry” exists to serve nearly nothing else.

  • Frank Natoli

    Republicans and Democrats do not use the same dictionary, thus their differing views on what to fund. For example…
    “Provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare”, when using the Republican dictionary, means have the federal government fund an army and a navy and an air force and the men and women and weapons needed for them, and institute policies which minimize interference with the private sector’s ability to provide for the general welfare.
    When using the Democrat dictionary, those words mean every penny spent on providing for the common defense is a penny that should have been spent on the unlimited welfare state, and all federal revenues and borrowings should be used to provide for the general welfare.
    Who’s to say which dictionary is what those who wrote and enacted the Constitution meant the words to imply?

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