Reinventing Guns and Butter Politics for the 21st Century

by | Nov 7, 2015


The Center of American Progress (CAP) is a prominent Democratic “think tank” in the Hall of Mirrors that is Versailles on the Potomac. The CAP brands itself by saying it is “dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.” The Center also claims it presents a liberal viewpoint on economic issues. Its blog, inaptly named “Think Progress,” is widely read among avant-garde “progressives.”

The blog and the CAP itself are quite useless for people trying to understand the real issues at stake for what remains of the old Democratic coalition put together by FDR and destroyed by Richard Nixon. That is because the CAP is really a political front for the progressive apparatchiks in the emerging Clinton neoliberal oligarchy. The CAP’s founder John Podesta, a long time Clinton aide, is managing Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president. The current CAP president, Neera Tanden, is a long time Clinton confidant and advisor.

The independent investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald just exposed the mentality of the people who are running the CAP. That mentality is made evident by their own words, expressed in emails leaked by someone inside of the CAP to Greenwald. The emails describe the CAP’s obsequious pandering to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and AIPAC. This is to be expected, of course; and the pandering is the primary focus of Greenwald’s report. That said, the cynical distancing of CAP and Ms. Clinton from a sitting Democratic President is worse than even the most jaded readers might expect.

But one 2011 email sequence is even more revealing of the CAP mentality, in my opinion. CAP staffer Faiz Shakir questioned whether it would be politically or morally wise for the United States to force Libya to use its oil revenues to reimburse the United States for our bombing and “liberating” of Libya. Ms. Tanden’s slam-dunk counterargument says it all. Both emails are reproduced here …


There you have it: A “liberal progressive’s” mutation of guns and butter politics for the 21st Century!

Ms. Tanden thinks we should make the countries we bomb use their oil wealth to reimburse us for the cost of bombing them. That way we don’t have to cut Head Start, food stamps, or Medicaid.

This is an insensitive policy wonk’s vision for what we in the Pentagon used to call a “self licking ice cream cone.” It is necessary, Ms. Tanden asserts, because we live in an era of intensifying “deficit politics.” This is a brand of politics that neoliberal Democrats brought upon themselves by going along with Reagan tax cutting and defense spending policies, increasing privatization since the days of Jimmy Carter, and Mad King George’s pre-9-11 reckless tax cuts and defense increases in 2001.*

More importantly, according to Ms. Tanden, forcing bombed countries to reimburse us for our bombing is the only solution for the indispensable power of the United States (to borrow Madeline Albright’s term of art), “if we want to continue to engage in the world.”

But there is more to her vision.

Consider, please, the possibilities inherent in its elegant symmetry: Using war to fund social programs effectively synthesizes (1) the neoconservative impulse to wage war on everyone with, (2) the tenets of neoliberalism and, (3) what remains of the US welfare state. Like Bill Clinton’s theft of the NATO expansion issue from Bob Dole in October 1994 during the last month of the presidential election, Tanden’s vision pulls the rug out from under the warmongering nutcases on the right, while placating both the money lust of the Military/Industrial/Congressional Complex and the humanitarian interventionists on the “left.” This is a vision of neoliberal triangulation politics on a grand scale, far beyond the imaginings of Bill Clinton’s Triangulator-in- Chief, Dick Morris, who said triangulation meant “the president needed to take a position that not only blended the best of each party’s views but also transcended them to constitute a third force in the debate.”

Now that is how “think progress” relates to the moral, mental, and material progress in the Hall of Mirrors.

* Readers would be wrong to think that the Pentagon’s huge budget increases were triggered entirely by 9-11. As this paper shows on pages 2-3, most of the increases were already planned and in the Pentagon’s computers by the end of July, 2001, well before 9-11. To be sure, the Pentagon and the Bush Administration exploited the hysteria triggered by 9-11 to ratchet the budget beyond this projection of the Global War on Terror’s initial cost estimates projected in the figure.

Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.

Reprinted with permission from author’s website.


  • Franklin C. Spinney

    Franklin C. Spinney is an American former military analyst for the Pentagon who became famous in the early 1980s for what became known as the “Spinney Report”, criticizing what he described as the reckless pursuit of costly complex weapon systems by the Pentagon, with disregard to budgetary consequences.