God's Politics

The administration’s FY 2008 budget was delivered to Congress yesterday. Depending on who’s counting and what their definitions are, the total for “security” spending – including the Defense Department base budget, Homeland Security budget, Iraq/Afghanistan war budget, and an additional war supplemental appropriation for FY 2007 – appears to be in the neighborhood of $750 billion. This is, as The Washington Times reported,

an increase of 4 percent from the current year and the largest sum in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1946 after the end of World War II. Including national security programs of other agencies, such as the Departments of State and Energy, the United States would spend more on security next year than the rest of the world combined. [emphasis mine]

By contrast, all non-defense/security discretionary spending comes to around $400 billion. A number of key social programs are slated for elimination, while others have their funding cut, and still others receive a reduced rate of increase that will not keep up with population growth and need.

I am reminded again of a section from Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1967 speech at Riverside Church. In Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence, Dr. King spoke of the ongoing struggle against poverty and what was happening to it:

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

This time, a war in Iraq – but the same point. The war is an enemy of the poor and America will never invest the necessary funds or energies in combating poverty as long as wars take the people, skills, and money. Dr. King concluded:

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Forty years later, those words ring as true as they did then. The “demonic destructive suction tube” continues to lead to our spiritual death.

Duane Shank is senior policy adviser for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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