The Military’s Reach

The full-page Washington Post “in memoriam” ad for John Murtha, paid for by Lockheed Martin, serves as a reminder of how all-pervasive a role the military-industrial complex plays in Washington, DC life:


Defense industry advertising is critical to the finances of a lot of Beltway-focused publications about politics. Defense contractors are the biggest advertising on Metro. Defense contractors are leading sponsors of DC-area sports franchises and leading contributors to DC-area charities. Defense contractors donate to DC think tanks. Every social group of college-educated Washingtonians includes people who work directly or indirectly for the military or for defense contractors. Of course nobody says “I’m going to vote in favor of invading Iraq because I saw a Northrup Grumman ad at the Verizon Center.” But all this spending does, I think, have an impact. To be a fan of large and growing defense budgets is, in the context of Washington DC, to be a respected pillar of the community. To be an advocate of reduced military spending is to be a hippie freak.

Spending cuts are pretty unpopular across the board, but defense cuts are one of the least-unpopular options. Nevertheless, the elite consensus against defense cuts is overwhelming. Both the leaders of the party nominally more interested in reduced spending and the leaders of the party nominally more skeptical of the Pentagon oppose such cuts even while both parties are trying to position themselves as favorably disposed to fiscal retrenchment.