28 January 2012

CIVIL WAR: THE SEQUEL? The Election Of 2012 (Part 6)

INTERLUDE: 1865 to 1975 (continued)

After WWII, defense spending consumed a significant majority of the federal budget. In 1957, at the most intense part of the cold war, 70 per cent of the national budget went for national defense. By the time of the Kennedy administration, defense still accounted for 60 percent of the federal budget.

The Johnson administration lowered defense spending to about 42 per cent at its outset. Despite fighting a war in Vietnam, Johnson steadily cut the defense budget to 40 per cent when he left office. The defense budget, as a percentage of the federal budget continued to drop steadily to the point that today, before any of the Obama cuts are considered, defense spending is under 20 per cent of the federal budget.

“Social spending” and redistribution of wealth became the new paradigm, and to protect his social programs, Johnson’s national defense policy shifted. The war in Vietnam was “managed” by the aptly named Secretary of Defense, Robert Strange McNamara, rather than won. Fighting a reactive, rather than a proactive war, Johnson’s strategy was to send additional troops only after the North Vietnamese had reinforced their troops. “Let’s get by” replaced overwhelming force as a national principle.

Early in the Six Day War, Israel conducted a sneak attack on USS Liberty. Liberty was steaming independently in international waters when Israeli torpedo boats and aircraft attacked her, killing 34 and wounding 170 of her crew. Johnson refused to allow the Sixth Fleet to retaliate or to even put a defensive combat air patrol over the ship. She was left on her own for nearly 24 hours, open to the sea from a torpedo hit and holed by more than 800 rounds of 30mm or greater armaments, until she could rejoin the Sixth Fleet.

When the ship’s captain, then-Commander William McGonagle, USN, was nominated for the Medal of Honor, Johnson approved, so long as the Israeli government did not object. The Israeli’s demanded only that the award ceremony be non-public and low key. Captain McMonagle received the Medal of Honor from the Secretary of the Navy at the Washington Navy Yard, rather from the President at the White House.

Next, in January 1968, the North Korean government attacked and captured USS Pueblo, killing one member of the crew. Pueblo was steaming independently in international waters. The remainder of the crew was captured and held as prisoners of war for 11 months. Other than issuing a letter of apology, which was immediately withdrawn after the crew’s release, Johnson did nothing. No attempt was made to capture or destroy the vessel, and it remains in the hands of the North Koreans.

Appeasement and talk became the order of the day.

At the same time, a new word appeared in the American lexicon: “entitlement.”

Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the mid-30s, the strong central government that was the result of the Civil War began to take on responsibilities that had heretofore been personal or religious. When savings were destroyed by the banking collapse of 1929, which was caused, in turn, by middle class entre into the stock market and unscrupulous offers by brokers of low-margin trading, the government stepped in to establish a forced savings plan for retirement amongst workers. Workers paid a tax into the Social Security program and were guaranteed certain benefits at age 65.

In 1965, the nose of the camel of socialized medicine was pushed under the tent by the Johnson administration. The Medicare program was instituted and, with a companion program, Medicaid, government became a major health care insurer. While workers paid for their future Medicare benefits by a new tax, Medicaid was funded entirely by taxpayers. The recipients received the benefit at no cost to themselves.

Johnson’s approach to his domestic program was to increase social spending through taxation and borrowing., Following Democratic Party practice, it received a catchy name, “The Great Society.” Two new federal bureaucracies were created: the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Transportation which federalized two functions that were previously supervised by the States. Nothing was to interfere with increased federalization of American life. The seeds planted in 1965 grew and bloomed—disastrously-- in the next 45 years.

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