If Barack Obama sends more troops to Afghanistan, it will spell the end for the progressive agenda in the US, says Rep. David Obey (D-WI).  Obey tells ABC that any increase in troops in the Af-Pak theater had better be accompanied by a surtax on the rich, or he won’t support it.  Obey also engages in some historical illiteracy to make his point:

The powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee has a stark message for President Obama about Afghanistan — sending more troops would be a mistake that could “wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our own economy.”

“There ain’t going to be no money for nothing if we pour it all into Afghanistan,” House Appropriations Chairman David Obey told ABC News in an exclusive interview. “If they ask for an increased troop commitment in Afghanistan, I am going to ask them to pay for it.” …

Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin, made it clear that he is absolutely opposed to sending any more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and says if Obama decides to do that, he’ll demand a new tax — what he calls a “war surtax” — to pay for it.

“On the merits, I think it is a mistake to deepen our involvement,” Obey said. “But if we are going to do that, then at least we ought to pay for it. Because if we don’t, if we don’t pay for it, the cost of the Afghan war will wipe out every initiative we have to rebuild our own economy.”

If this sounds more like an excuse to tax the rich than to achieve fiscal discipline, you’re probably recalling Obey’s role in the $787 billion Porkulus disaster.  When Obey pushed that bill, he didn’t have any concerns about the “stupid” decisions that would be done with the money, or whether Congress had any control over how the money got spent.  “So what?” was Obey’s response to NPR.

Obey tells ABC that wars always end progressive agendas:

Such a high war cost, he warns, will make it impossible to pay for any of Obama’s major domestic initiatives.

“That’s what happened with the Vietnam War, which wiped out [President Lyndon Johnson’s social program] the Great Society,” Obey said. “That’s what happened with the Korean War, which wiped out Harry Truman’s Square Deal. That’s what happened with the end of the progressive movement before the ’20s when we went into World War I. In each case, the cost of those wars shut off our ability to pay for anything else.”

There is so much foolishness in this statement that’s almost impossible to unpack it all.  But I’ll try:

  • So far, Obey and his Democratic allies haven’t shown how they will pay for Obama’s domestic initiatives now, even without any further war funding.  Every single program they’ve proposed will add to the deficit, including Obey’s Porkulus bill.
  • The Great Society programs didn’t end with the Vietnam War.  We still have them around, especially Medicare, which has grown massively since LBJ.  We only curtailed LBJ’s welfare program in the mid-90s because of its stultifying effects and runaway costs, and we weren’t in a shooting war when we did it.  What program does Obey think got cut from LBJ’s agenda?
  • We went into World War I in 1917, and came out in 1919.  “Before the ’20s” sounds as though Obey thinks the war was in that decade, but even without that, the progressive agenda had plenty of time (and prosperity) in that decade to succeed if people wanted it.  It died of its own accord, not because of war.
  • And for that matter, did World War II end the New Deal?  We still have FDR’s stamp all over federal government.

If we choose to pursue a more aggressive strategy in Afghanistan, it will be to protect our national security by denying radical Islamists a base in that region with which to launch more attacks against the US.  The federal government has a constitutional duty to act in the national defense.  It does not have a constitutional duty to reorder the American economy, and in fact doesn’t have the authority or jurisdiction to do it anyway.  Obey’s progressive agenda has much less legitimacy than the pursuit of America’s enemies by America’s military.

Of course, when it comes to the Constitution, Obey says … “So what?”

Update: World War I, not II.