In the interview, Bacevich talks about Ronald Reagan as "modern prophet of profligacy, the politician who gave moral sanction to the empire of consumption".
To understand the truth about President Reagan is to appreciate the extent to which our politics are misleading and false. Remember, he was the guy who came in and said we need to shrink the size of government. But government didn’t shrink during the Reagan era, it grew. He came in and he said we need to reduce the level of federal spending. He didn’t reduce it. It went through the roof. The budget deficits for his time were the greatest we’d experienced since World War II.Here's an excerpt from the end, with Moyers' words in italics.
Here is what I take to be the core of your analysis of our political crisis. You write, “The United States has become a de facto one-party state, with the legislative branch permanently controlled by an Incumbents’ Party.” And you write that every president “has exploited his role as commander in chief to expand on the imperial prerogatives of his office.”Excellent reading, if a few months late. Thanks to Eric in Stratford.
One of the great lies about American politics is that Democrats genuinely subscribe to a set of core convictions that make Democrats different from Republicans. And the same thing, of course, applies to the other party. It’s not true.
I happen to define myself as a conservative. But when you look back over the past thirty or so years, said to have been a conservative era in American politics, did we get small government? Do we get balanced budgets? Do we give serious, as opposed to simply rhetorical, attention to traditional social values? The answer’s no. The truth is that conservative principles have been eyewash, part of a package of tactics that Republicans employ to get elected and to then stay in office.
And yet you say that the prime example of political dysfunction today is the Democratic Party in relation to Iraq.
Well, I may be a conservative, but I can assure you that in November of 2006 I voted for every Democrat I could find on the ballot. And I did so because the Democratic Party, speaking with one voice at that time, said, “Elect us. Give us power in the Congress, and we will end the Iraq War.”
The American people, at that point adamantly tired of this war, did empower the Democrats. And Democrats absolutely, totally, completely failed to follow through on their promise.
You argue that the promises of Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi proved to be empty. Reid and Pelosi’s commitment to forcing a change in policy took a backseat to their concern to protect the Democratic majority.
Could anybody disagree with that?
This is another one of my highlighted sentences: “To anyone with a conscience, sending soldiers back to Iraq or Afghanistan for multiple combat tours while the rest of the country chills out can hardly seem an acceptable arrangement. It is unfair, unjust, and morally corrosive.” And yet that’s what we’re doing.
Absolutely. And I think— I don’t want to talk about my son here.
You dedicate the book to your son.
My son was killed in Iraq. That’s a personal matter. But it has long stuck in my craw, this posturing of supporting the troops. There are many people who say they support the troops, and they really mean it. But what exactly does it mean to support the troops? It ought to mean more than putting a bumper sticker on the back of your car. I don’t think we actually do support the troops. What we the people do is we contract out the business of national security to approximately 0.5 percent of the population, about a million and a half people who are on active duty. And then we really turn away. We don’t want to look when our soldiers go back for two or three or four or five combat tours. That’s not supporting the troops. That’s an abdication of civic responsibility. And I do think there’s something fundamentally immoral about that.
Again, I think the global war on terror, as a framework of thinking about policy, is deeply defective. But if the global war on terror is a national priority, then why isn’t the country actually supporting it in a meaningful, substantive sense?
Are you calling for a reinstatement of the draft?
I’m not, because I understand that, politically, the draft is an impossibility. And to tell you the truth, we don’t need to have an army of six or eight or ten million people. What we need is to have the country engaged in what its soldiers are doing. That simply doesn’t exist today.