Obama Admits We Can't Have Guns and Butter -- Then Chooses Guns

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • David Sirota Newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author

During the Vietnam War, it became clear that America could not afford to simultaneously wage war on poverty and wage war in Vietnam. We could not have guns and butter at the same time, as Martin Luther King so eloquently noted in his 1967 speech at Riverside Church:

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 the 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.

The same is true of the Afghanistan War, which will now cost at least $100 billion a year, thanks to President Obama's massive escalation. That's more than the same annual outlay for the universal health care bills being considered in Congress. And you don't have to trust me to know that that kind of Afghanistan outlay means we can't have guns and butter at the same time - trust President Obama himself:

Obama Turns to Job Creation, but Warns of Limited Funds

After months of focusing on Afghanistan and health care, President Obama turned his attention on Thursday to the high level of joblessness, but offered no promise that he could do much to bring unemployment down quickly even as he comes under pressure from his own party to do more.

While liberals are calling for ambitious job-creating measures along the lines of the New Deal and Republicans want to scale back government spending programs, Mr. Obama talked at the White House on Thursday of limited programs that he suggested could provide substantial bang for the buck when it comes to job creation. Among them was the weatherization program...

Yet that relatively modest proposal underscores the limits of the government's ability to affect a jobless recovery with the highest unemployment rate in 26 years -- and Mr. Obama acknowledged as much...Mr. Obama emphasized at the jobs forum that the government had already done a lot with his $787 billion economic stimulus package and the $700 billion financial bailout that he inherited.*

Give President Obama credit for honesty - he is acknowledging that the guns-versus-butter choice is, indeed, the choice we have to make, and further, his Afghanistan actions strongly suggest he's choosing the guns side of the equation. That's especially true when you consider that in the wake of his Afghanistan speech, he has sent his advisers to the television airwaves to insist that, in fact, we probably aren't getting out of Afghanistan any time soon. As National Security adviser Jim Jones told CNN this weekend, "The President has said we are not leaving Afghanistan."

* By the way, it's almost comical that the New York Times now insists that Obama "inherited" the financial bailout -- even though, of course, he aggressively pushed it during the presidential campaign, going as far as demanding his fellow congressional Democrats support it when they were considering voting it down.