Electing the Pentagon's Man

When we read of the coming election, what we mainly read about is “the horse race.” For the presidential part of it, polls go up and down creating endless news (with Republicans thrilled by the President’s 10-point Time magazine lead and Democrats checking Rasmussen Reports daily on-line for reassurance); in the media, the dog fight in the “battleground states” is laid out state by state, poll by poll, week by week. Electoral votes are added up and then, a few days later, added again, throwing the election provisionally in one direction or another. And we know there’s money involved. The treasuries and advertising budgets of the two campaigns in what’s coming to be called our first “billion dollar election” are now news. Thanks to Moveon.org and a few similar organizations, the “527” is a term that’s slipped outside the Beltway and, if you’re a junkie or in the mood to check out the Texans for Public Justice website, you can even learn much about George Bush’s “Pioneers” and “Rangers,” those brave (and wealthy) folks who have been willing to push onto the farthest frontiers of bundling money to buy an election.

But how this all works institutionally still remains largely a media mystery and, when it comes to Congress, little short of a blank. Charts are regularly drawn up in the press that allude to the major aspect of this mystery. Every two years we have Congressional elections in which the number of seats which might possibly change hands comes remarkably close to zero. You can, for instance, check out a very graphic New York Times graphic on this by clicking here, then on “The House,” and finally on “CQ[Congressional Quarterly] risk ratings.”

A recent USA Today piece by Chuck Raasch (In 2004, all politics is national) put a version of this into words:

“Redistricting after the 2000 Census has left less than 50 of the 435 congressional seats truly competitive… If you live in Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont or Wyoming, you not only will likely have a yawner of a presidential contest, you will have no real contests for the U.S. House, Senate or governor. You might as well be living in Brazil. California, which Kerry expects to win rather easily, has one mildly contested House race among 53. Ohio has 18 House seats but none now look like they are remotely up for grabs. Ohio Sen. George Voinovich is expected to breeze to re-election. So in Ohio in 2004, all politics is national.”

And in his estimates on competitive seats, Raasch is distinctly on the optimistic side. Jon Kamman of the Arizona Republic, who reminds us that in his state, “no member of the U.S. House …has been unseated in a primary in 92 years of statehood,” has the following comment on a rare competitive House seat in a district that includes Coconino County (home of Krazy Kat). “The seat, representing a huge rural district across northern, eastern and south-central Arizona,” he writes in passing, “is one of about 35 nationwide considered up for grabs.”

400 seats in the increasingly ill-named House of Representatives, then, are considered essentially “safe.” But none of the reporters ever quite seem to get around to explaining the why of it. Below, Chalmers Johnson, who in his recent bestselling book The Sorrows of Empire, (part of the American Empire Project series at Metropolitan Books) ranged the world tracking down American militarism in its 700-plus bases scattered from Qatar to Okinawa, Uzbekistan to Greenland, returns home to explain how one “safe” seat has been working all these years, military-industrial dollar by dollar. (If you want to explore exactly how your own congressperson or senator has created his or her comforting aura of safety, you might start by clicking here.)

On your way from the Pentagon and Washington down to Chalmers Johnson’s district in San Diego, a few basics, a little military-industrial background, might be in order just to give yourself a sense of where all that PAC money is coming from and why there’s so much of it. Start with a simple chart comparing our military budget to anyone else’s; and, as you consider these numbers, keep in mind that the figure being used is the official Pentagon budget, not the actual sum that goes into all military and intelligence related affairs which, depending on how you count, could rise as high as $750 billion for fiscal year 2004, or twice our stated defense budget. On the other hand, you could just check out the price tags of a few hot items of weaponry (and we’re talking Neiman Marcus-style prices, not Wal-Mart ones here), or consider a little chart of congressional ‘add-ons’ for fiscal year 1999 (nothing’s changed since) – that is, the billions added onto the Pentagon budget every year beyond our military’s already gargantuan requests by powerful Congressional figures who are intent on feeding pork to their districts. (Click here first, then on “Congressional “Add-Ons” FY1999.”) Or you could look at the matter from another “safe” perspective entirely by clicking here and then on “What’s Good for Lockheed Martin: U.S. Security Policy,” and consider the recent history of one of the major contributors to “the military-industrial man” Chalmers Johnson describes below.

The Military-Industrial Man How Local Politics Works in America – or a “Duke” in Every District by Chalmers Johnson

It is hardly news to anyone who pays the slightest attention to American politics that Congress is no longer responsive to the people. Incumbency is so well institutionalized that elections generally mean virtually nothing. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay approves the private ownership of assault weapons and machine guns despite complaints from police around the country that they’re outgunned by criminals, despite the 65% of the public who want them banned, despite pleas from the relatives of murdered Americans. On this issue, the National Rifle Association seems to own the Congress.

A similar situation exists with regard to munitions makers. In one district after another the weapons industry has bought the incumbent and the voters are unable to dislodge him or her. On really big projects like the B-2 stealth bomber, contracts are placed for pieces of the airplane in all of the 48 continental states to insure that individual members of Congress can be threatened with the loss of jobs in their districts should they ever get the idea that we do not need another weapon of massive destruction. The result is defense budgets of $425 billion per year (plus that extra $75 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, another $20 billion for nuclear weapons, and $200 billion more for veterans and the wounded), leading to the highest governmental deficits in postwar history. It seems likely that only bankruptcy will stop the American imperial juggernaut.

The California Fiftieth Congressional District in northern San Diego County where I live is a good example of exactly how this works at the local level. The constituents of the fiftieth district have been misrepresented in Washington for the past fourteen years by a wholly paid-for tool of the military-industrial complex – the Republican incumbent, Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

The heavily populated Fiftieth District is an oddly gerrymandered amalgam of rich (and Republican) Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla, more liberal coastal towns like the northern sections of San Diego itself, Del Mar, Encinitas, and Carlsbad, and – inland – Hispanic and working class Escondido and Mira Mesa. Although the district includes much of La Jolla, it excludes the University of California campus and the students who live and work there. It’s a district whose character has shifted in recent years as thousands of biotech researchers and other professionals have moved into the area and as parts of educated, white-collar San Diego have been included in it as well. The Fiftieth District is desperately in need of new leadership in Congress more in tune with the political values and interests of the people who now live there. This year, for the first time, Cunningham is opposed by a candidate who is well qualified and whose views – if they were better known – more clearly match the interests and values of the people he claims to represent.

On July 12–14, Decision Research, one of the most respected polling firms in the country, conducted a telephone poll of 440 registered voters in the district. Among its findings were that when they heard Cunningham’s voting record on abortion, school vouchers, protecting the environment, the Iraq war, spending on weapons, and many other issues, his lead dropped from 18 to 4 percentage points, within the poll’s 4.7% margin of error. The relatively unknown Democratic candidate running against him is Francine Busby, past president of one of the district’s school boards, who has nonetheless put together a powerful campaign, particularly among women, drawing attention to the way Cunningham has sold-out the welfare of the district to special interests.

Sources of information on Cunningham are his and his opponents’ reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as well as accounts of his record compiled by the three leading nonpartisan think-tanks on Congress: the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, Political Moneyline, and Project Vote Smart in Philipsburg, Montana.

Let’s start with money. As of June 30, 2004, Cunningham had raised $608,977 for the coming election, spent $382,043, and as cash on hand had an amazing $890,753. By contrast, on the same date Francine Busby had raised $64,449, spent $32,937, and had cash on hand of $31,511. Some 46% of Cunningham’s money comes from political action committees, so-called PACs, 49% from individual contributions, and none from his own personal funds. Two percent of Busby’s money comes from PACs, 86% from individuals, and 6% from the candidate herself. Some 68% of Cunningham’s money originates in California, but 32% of it is out-of-state. Ninety-seven percent of Busby’s minuscule funds come from within California and only 3% from out-of-state. She is raising money fast but Cunningham can still outspend her 8 to 1, and he has declared publicly that his is a safe district and that he will devote his time this fall to helping George W. Bush.

The real differences show up when one examines who contributes what to whom. By industrial categories, Cunningham’s top contributors, based on FEC data released August 2, 2004, are defense electronics ($66,550), defense aerospace ($39,000), lobbyists ($32,500), miscellaneous defense ($29,200), air transport ($26,500), health professionals ($24,700), and real estate ($23,001). Busby’s top contributors are listed as “retired.” Cunningham’s number-one financial backer is the Titan Corporation of San Diego, which gave him $18,000. It has recently been in the news for supplying Arabic translators to the Army, several of whom have been identified as possible torturers at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Titan’s $657 million Pentagon contract, which had to be approved by the House Appropriations Committee’s National Security Subcommittee of which Cunningham is a member, is the company’s single biggest source of revenue so it’s a clear case of a political pay-off.

Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest weapons manufacturer, gave Cunningham a whopping $15,000. Cunningham’s number-three source of funds is MZM Inc. of Washington, DC, whose government clients, in addition to the Pentagon, include the “U.S. intelligence community,” the “Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force,” and the Department of Homeland Security. MZM gave Randy $11,000 for his services. Next in line is the Cubic Corporation of San Diego, which has numerous multimillion-dollar contracts with the Pentagon to supply “realistic combat training systems” and surveillance and reconnaissance avionics. It gave Randy $10,000. General Dynamics ponied up $10,000 for the Congressman, as did San Diego’s Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC as it is commonly known. SAIC’s largest customer by far is the U.S. government, which accounts for 69% of its business according to SAIC’s filings with the SEC. (SAIC was supposed to build a new, pro-American TV and radio network in Iraq but bungled the job badly.) The remainder of Cunningham’s top contributors reads like a who’s who among the merchants of death: $9,500 from Northrup Grumman, $8,000 from Raytheon (which makes the Tomahawk cruise missile), $8,500 from Qualcomm, and $7,000 from Boeing. All this for just one Congressman.

Busby’s biggest contributions are $2,000 from an outfit called “Blue Hornet,” which designs web sites; $1,835 from members of the Cardiff School Board, and $1,080 from employees of Mira Costa College.

One ingenious measure of how money displaces people in our political system, compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, is the zip codes from which each candidate gets his or her individual contributions. For Cunningham the chief one is 92067, Rancho Santa Fe, with $62,795 in donations. Rancho Santa Fe is well known as a beautiful, underpopulated enclave of extremely wealthy people, many of them foreigners. It is followed by 92037, La Jolla, not a poor town, which chipped in $24,000 for Cunningham. The next two zip codes are 20003 and 20007, both of which are in Washington DC. Cunningham received the fewest donations from 92065, Carlsbad. Busby’s are the direct opposite. Her best zip code is 92007, her home town of Cardiff, the residents of which have given her $8,415, followed by 92009, Carlsbad; 92014, Del Mar; and last 92091, wealthy Fairbanks Ranch, which gave her a mere $1,000. Cunningham’s money comes from the following localities, in descending order: San Diego, Washington DC, New York City, and Orange County, California. Busby’s comes entirely from the San Diego metropolitan area.

Cunningham knows with precision who gives him money and what its providers expect of him. As the Japanese like to say, you don’t have to tell a geisha what to do. He has 100% ratings from the National Right to Life Committee (he is adamantly opposed to giving women the right to choose), the League of Private Property Voters, the Christian Coalition, the Business-Industry PAC, and an 80% rating from the Gun Owners of America. Over the last decade he has received $44,600 from the National Rifle Association, more than any member of Congress except Representative Don Young, a Republican from Alaska. There are no places in the fiftieth district to go hunting, least of all with an Uzi or an AK-47.

Cunningham’s voting record likewise reflects the fact that national neoconservatives and the munitions industry now own him lock, stock, and barrel. As one might expect, he voted for the “No Child Left Behind” and “Patriot” Acts. He also voted “yes” on the following measures: the law banning partial birth abortion; the $350 billion tax break for the rich, passed on May 23, 2003, by a vote of 231 to 200; a law prohibiting liability law suits against gun-makers and gun-sellers whose products are used to commit crimes; the Medicare Prescription Drug Act, passed in the middle of the night on November 22, 2003, by a vote of 220 to 215; and the Emergency Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act of April 3, 2003, that included $62.5 billion for the war in Iraq.

Cunningham talks a lot about patriotism and putting the country first, but although his voting record in 2003 was 98% for what President Bush wanted, in 1999 he had only a 20% record of supporting President Clinton. Opposition to Clinton is, of course, almost the functional definition of “patriotism” among Cunningham’s wing of the Republican Party, which sought to impeach the president for a venial sin but which is indifferent to evidence of mortal sins committed by President Bush, particularly his leading the country into war against Iraq based on a tissue of lies.

Within Congress, Cunningham is a member of the National Security Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, a forum the military-industrial complex does everything in its power to control, and of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The latter is the committee headed by Congressman Porter Goss of Florida, a former CIA agent who has recently been nominated by President Bush to be the next director of the CIA. This oversight committee has not exactly covered itself with glory, approving the work of the CIA even as it was failing to warn the country about the attacks of 9/11 and deceiving Congress and the people into war with Iraq.

According to Cunningham himself, his most important lifetime achievement is his twenty years of service as a naval aviator, including aerial combat over Vietnam in which he shot down three communist jets in one day (overall, a total of five during the war) and was himself brought down by a surface-to-air missile. On May 10, 1972, he was rescued by a helicopter from the South China Sea. Cunningham has exploited this record into what one commentator calls “hero inflation” and Shakespeare’s Henry V called “remembering with advantages.” He now claims to have been a military hero deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor (which he didn’t get), even though he acknowledges that his aerial dog-fighting had little effect on the course of the war. Cunningham has created a company called “Top Gun Enterprises” that sells lithographs of himself in his pilot’s outfit and books he has written about his navy exploits. His company’s web site, claims that the 1986 film Top Gun starring Tom Cruise was actually about Randy “Duke” Cunningham.

Cunningham’s comments in the Congressional Record dwell heavily on his Vietnam role and the military. For example, on April 22, 2004, he said to the House of Representatives: “Mr. Speaker, I was shot down over North Vietnam. I can remember the anger and the disparaging remarks that John Kerry made about our service. I remember the rage in all of us from his slander. . . . Even today, John Kerry votes against defense, the military, veterans, and intelligence bills that would enforce the safe return of our men and women. We do not need someone that would vote like a Jane Fonda as commander in chief.”

He has persisted in such attacks on the patriotism of Kerry, notably in an interview with Rush Limbaugh on August 17, 2004. Here’s an excerpt:

“DUKE: It’s not about Vietnam. It’s about what he did in 1971, bad-mouthing all of us, calling us war criminals. It’s his votes since he’s been in the Senate, he ran on cutting defense and intel, after the first Trade Center bombing, he tried to cut intelligence $9 billion. And it’s about who is going to protect my family, my daughters, my son, my wife in the next few years, and to me, it’s not Senator Kerry. Rush, if Senator Kerry was a Republican running, I would oppose him.

RUSH: Congressman, thanks very much for the call. It really is an honor to hear from you. I know your history and I’ve been very impressed with it, and you’re one of the guys still taking a lot of shots because of who you are in Washington. You stand up to ’em and we all appreciate it, we honor your service here. Thanks very much.

DUKE: Life is good, Rush.

RUSH: It is. That’s Duke Cunningham, congressman from California, the first fighter ace in Vietnam, five MiGs shot down.”

Cunningham’s most famous naval exploit actually occurred after he left the Navy and was a freshman Congressman. In 1991, Cunningham was a member of the board of directors of the Tailhook Association, a private group of active duty, reserve, and retired Navy and Marine Corps aviators, defense contractors, and their supporters. (The name ‘tailhook’ comes from the device that halts aircraft when they land on aircraft carriers.) The Navy used to provide free office space for the association at San Diego’s Miramar Naval Air Station, and lent out its fleet of passenger aircraft to fly attendees to Tailhook’s yearly meetings in Las Vegas. At the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium (September 5 to 7, 1991) at the Las Vegas Hilton, a meeting that Cunningham attended in an official capacity, drunken fliers, joined by the Secretary of the Navy, groped, stripped, and mauled some 83 women in the hotel, according to the report of the Department of Defense’s Inspector General.

Since that time Cunningham has devoted massive amounts of time and energy to arguing that what went on was just good clean fun and great male bonding. In Congressional hearings, he has gone out of his way to undercut official programs to combat sexual harassment and discrimination in the military. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune of March 11, 1998, he referred to such efforts as “B.S.” and “political correctness.” In 1998, after Cunningham had been operated on for prostate cancer, he commented to the press that “[t]he only person who would enjoy a prostate biopsy is Barney Frank.” His fellow congressman Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who is openly gay, replied that “Cunningham seems to be more obsessed with homosexuality than most homosexuals.”

Cunningham has only one string to his mandolin – the military-industrial complex and its interests. He has virtually no record at all on such issues as illegal immigration, water resources, ocean pollution, agriculture, mass transit, renewable energy, and unemployment. Whenever he takes up subjects such as environmental conservation and education, it is to reduce or halt federal funds that might make a difference. Citizens of the Fiftieth District are not uninterested in national security but they have a much broader range of needs and concerns than has ever crossed the mind of their current representative. As one of Cunningham’s constituents, I hope we send to the House of Representatives a person who actually knows something about the communities of northern San Diego County. A Francine Busby victory this November would cause a political realignment in San Diego County comparable to Loretta Sanchez’s 1996 defeat of “B-1” Bob Dornan in Orange County’s 46th District.

Chalmers Johnson is a retired professor of international relations at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project, 2004) as well as Blowback, The Costs and Consequences of American Empire.

September 15, 2004