“Military spending is free!”

Jim Henley points to a journalistic convention with major political and policy consequences: politicians can propose huge amounts of military spending (but not domestic spending or foreign aid) without ever being asked by a reporter who’s going to pay for it. And Hilzoy notes a similar convention: “hawkish” equals “serious,” no matter how crazy the hawkish opinions actually are.

Rudy Giuliani’s Foreign Affairs piece was a hanging slider, and lots of people knocked it out of the park. But in the course of his 450-foot homer, Jim Henley makes an important structural point:

Rudy Giuliani presents a splendid plan for spending the nation into bankruptcy in a futile pursuit of continued dominance. Lucky for Rudy, since he’s demanding to blow absurd amounts of money on defense rather than tax cuts or domestic programs, no approved pundit or established journalist will ask him “How are you going to pay for all that?” Because those are the rules: military spending is free!

Absolutely right. Nowadays, you can be a “small government conservative” or “libertarian” and still want to spend infinite amounts of money on killing people and getting ready to. Spending much smaller amounts of money resolving conflicts without war is, of course, fiscally irresponsible. And Henley is right, it’s not just the wingers: no reporter would let a candidate get away with a multi-hundred-billion dollar domestic program with asking how it’s going to get paid for. But that question is considered rude when it comes to Supporting the Troops.

h/t Hilzoy, who points out a different structural advantage the Republicans have: insanely hawkish foreign policy pronouncements go uncriticized in the mainstream press, while anyone who supports a prompt withdrawal from Iraq is accused of being “unserious” or “pandering to the netroots.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com