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My husband, who has been a socialist since he was thirteen, announced at breakfast today that he plans to vote for certain Tea Party candidates.

Blink.

This violent about-face comes on the heels of Grover Norquist announcing that he wants to drag into his infamous bathtub … wait for it: the Pentagon budget–you know, that $534 billion monstrosity (well, $533.8 billion actually, but who’s going to quibble over a piddling .2 billion dollars, right?) the budget that every year, in Afghanistan and Iraq, has gone mostly down the toilet instead of into the tub.

For years only a hardy band of liberals in Congress-the Progressive Caucus, the Black Caucus and individuals like Representative Barney Frank-challenged the bloated military budget. The Republicans, ignoring President Eisenhower’s warning fifty years ago about the military-industrial complex, always gave the Pentagon what it wanted and more, gleefully bashing Democrats as weak-kneed on national security. Since the fall, however, a civil war of sorts has broken out among Republicans over defense, with the dissident faction led by Norquist, the libertarian Cato Institute and a growing group of allies, including some factions of the rambunctious Tea Party movement, backing significant cuts.

According to a well-known conservative activist, in early January House majority leader Eric Cantor quietly circulated to the entire GOP caucus a letter organized by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) that called for the Pentagon’s budget to be put on the chopping block. “We write to urge you to institute principled spending reform that rejects the notion that spending cuts can be avoided in certain parts of the federal budget,” said the letter, written in November to Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and incoming House Speaker John Boehner. “Department of Defense spending, in particular, has been provided protected status that has isolated it from serious scrutiny.” The letter was signed by twenty-three people, a Who’s Who of the conservative movement, including Norquist, David Keene of the American Conservative Union, Cato’s Christopher Preble, Richard Viguerie, Al Regnery of The American Spectator and many others. Also signing were Lisa Miller of Tea Party WDC and Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks, the pro-Tea Party organization led by former House majority leader Dick Armey. That Cantor, who has advocated cutting the military budget, sent ATR’s letter around was seen as a shot across the bow of Republicans who consider that budget a “sacred cow,” as ATR called it.

On January 19 more than 150 Congressional staffers and experts packed a Capitol Hill forum sponsored by Cato at which Norquist and Preble laid out the conservative case for slashing military spending. Preble, with Ben Friedman of Cato, outlined a series of cuts that go far beyond what Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Obama administration have proposed, identifying more than $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade-about a fifth of overall Pentagon spending. “When the Soviet Union disappeared,” said Norquist wryly, “a lot of people on the right failed to notice.” Referring to George W. Bush’s support for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for greater military spending, Norquist said too many Republicans support feeding the Pentagon’s appetite “just because Fearless Leader said it’s a good idea.”

Instead, Norquist called for a debate among Republicans over Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, asking, “What are we doing? Why are we there? How long do we plan to be there?” A week earlier, speaking at a dinner organized by Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation, Norquist cited polling data to support his view that, if debated, pro-war neoconservatives and hawks would lose the argument. “I’m confident about where that conversation would go,” he said. “I think the people who are against that conversation know where it would go, too.”

They must fear such a debate, because a powerful coalition (the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Foreign Policy Initiative (home to William Kristol of The Weekly Standard) is gearing up to challenge the anti-war wingers.

Whether or not my husband could actually vote for Ed Martin, I do not know. It’s not like Claire’s any prize, but Martin? God, he’s such a low life. Anyway, closer to the here and now, nothing will seriously endanger our War Budget this session, even if Barney Frank and Eric Cantor join hands. But the seeds of reality might be planted. I want to see a vocal debate about cutting war, oh excuse me, defense funds. Right now, Democrats are giving away the social safety net store without asking for war spending cuts in return.