We are reliably assured by progressives in the modern era that spending, deficits and the national debt are no big deal and are generally just distractions and dog whistles tossed out by conservatives. After all, you can always just print more money or go out to the White House rose garden and pick more off the money tree or something, right? That’s why my LADAR (Leftist Radar) is always set off when I hear one of their spokesmodels suddenly becoming concerned over the budget. The most recent example of this comes from Steve Lopez at the LA Times, who takes note of the deplorable condition of some of the schools in his neighborhood. It’s clearly a valid concern… who doesn’t want the schools maintained properly? And the roads are in need of repair, along with a shocking number of other infrastructure plans which require attention. But apparently there are budget issues preventing these projects from coming to fruition. So where is all the money going? Steve explains.

When it comes to the military budget, though, there’s very little skimping. And as the presidential candidates jockey for attention, you’ll hear more calls to bolster national defense. Even libertarian-leaning Rand Paul has proposed boosting defense by stealing from education, housing and environmental protection.

It goes without saying that the U.S. has a unique role in the world and a great deal to protect. But ask yourself this:

Do we need to spend more money on our military (about $600 billion this year) than the next seven countries combined?

Do we need 1.4 million active military personnel and 850,000 reserves when the enemy at the moment — ISIS — numbers in the low tens of thousands? If so, it seems there’s something radically wrong with our strategy.

Should 55% of the federal government’s discretionary spending go to the military and only 3% to transportation when the toll in American lives is far greater from failing infrastructure than from terrorism?

Ah, there it is. The military costs too much! Why are we wasting all this money on soldiers when we could be putting a new high speed rail project between San Diego and LA? It’s a crying shame, I tell ya.

To be fair, some of the issues Lopez raises are completely valid. His lead whipping post in the argument centers on the troubled history of the F-35 fighter jet which is just now coming into full combat service after a long and controversial development and roll out. There were legitimate questions – some raised by senior military officials – as to whether or not there was even need for a next generation fighter to fill that particular niche right now. There were design problems and the entire project took too long and cost too much money. This is all true. But the job is done and the Marines seem pretty happy with the results.

“When you put together the stealth with the situational awareness, with it being connected to all the other airplanes, with the information sharing — this airplane is going to be pretty darn hard to beat,” said Maj. Michael Roundtree, one of the test pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina…

When paired with the aircraft’s communications capabilities, F-35 pilots have unprecedented awareness of their environment, Roundtree and his fellow pilots said. Maj. Richard Rusnok, the F-35B detachment officer in charge for Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 22, declined to offer specifics on the aircraft’s classified radio system, but said pilots can communicate with the ship and each other without using radios. The system, which is shrouded in secrecy, allows pilots to silently and seamlessly divvy up targets.

Some of the bells and whistles on this thing probably look extravagant to the average civilian observer, I admit. (A helmet that costs nearly a half million dollars by itself is a pretty good example. But it’s an awesome helmet straight out of Star Wars.) We also need to make sure that we learn some lessons from the F-35’s development project and not repeat those mistakes in the future. But I think Lopez is a bit too quick to throw the baby out with the bath water here.

It was only one year ago that numerous military analysts were describing our air force as the smallest and weakest in living memory. We’re starting to catch up now, but it’s a long and expensive process. And when you have a Commander in Chief who is relying almost entirely on air power to fight ISIS and other Islamic terror groups, you need a lot of planes and even more pilots. None of that comes cheaply.

It’s not just the US Air Force that requires attention either. Mitt Romney may have been a bit off on his math when he said we had the smallest navy since 1917, but our naval forces have definitely shrunk and we’re asking a lot of the deep draft vessels we have left in circulation. When it comes to the Army and the number of bases we are operating, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process has already shrunk our footprint and cut costs considerably… so much so that Congress is actually pushing back against further closures.

I don’t think anyone is coming to this argument wearing blinders. Money is tight and times are hard, as the old saying goes, and the military has to be extremely careful with their funding and cut out waste when and where it can be found. But we live in very dangerous times, and recent history has shown that our allies aren’t going to carry the battle to the enemy if America sits on the sidelines. There’s plenty to cut in the budget and the military has taken it’s fair share of hits. Let’s not blame them for the bad sidewalk in front of your school.