How do we distinguish trustworthy politicians from hypocrites? On the budget war, there is a simple test.
Great leader to people: "If you want to lead the world, bite the bullet. World leadership takes effort, determination, sacrifice. And we are the greatest people in the world. Therefore, you (not me personally, of course) will sacrifice your environment, your health care, your national parks, your safety (running the world means making enemies, after all), your kids' education, and your civil liberties. That's the sacrifice part. In return, we (including me personally, of course) will then rule the world."
If you like that, you are empire material; if not, you're a wuss. No matter. The point is, the above statement is honest.
Perhaps the fundamental problem in U.S. politics today is distinguishing honesty from hypocrisy. How do "we the people" spot hypocrisy? Actually, it's easy.
Take the budget, for example. If a politician in Washington is discussing the popular topic of how to cut the budget (we all know that politicians hate spending our hard earned tax dollars), that politician will offer ways and means of cutting costs (praise his soul). If he does not start by noting that the only significant source of potential savings lies in the war budget, then you, dear citizen, have just discovered a hypocrite. This is the dirty little secret that everyone knows and that everyone (who is anyone in the ruling elite) has agreed not to mention ("vatever you do, don't mention the war!!").
If you think I am being too flip about a subject that is frankly risking the destruction of the American way of life, I suggest you read the writings of Nobel Prize Winner Joseph Stiglitz for the sobering details about the cost of American empire. At the moment, the mathematics are not my interest.
My point here is simpler: the ruling elite (composed of the Republican and Democratic wings of the American Conservative Party, Wall Street executives, Big Pharma, Big Oil, and of course those who preside over the manufacture of all those weapons) will to a man refuse to admit that significant budget savings are only possible by cutting the war budget because the war budget is their personal priority. Not the wars per se, the war budget...the massive mercenary armies, the assumed need for more weapons than are possessed by all the rest of the world put together, the endless construction of city-sized overseas bases to defend against threats that did not exist until the bases provoked opposition. To be more clear, the "war budget" is not a cheap attempt at sarcasm: it is quite real, encompassing the official U.S. defense budget plus all those little hidden extras like the multi-trillion dollar war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the endless billions in backroom deals to stimulate Israeli militarism. For those of you interested in the underlying dynamics of things, the latter point is a neat example: we hand endless offensive weapons to Israel (almost none of which are designed to prevent terrorist attacks on the Israeli people), thus tempting the most aggressive politicians to use them, thus provoking general hostility toward Israel, thus "justifying" the provision of further arms because now the security of the Israeli people truly has been endangered; for arms manufacturers, it is a no-lose process, and it comes in handy for those who need global tension to justify empire-building, too.)
All this is good business, and it is the business of the elite. The members of the elite are not stupid. Well, not that stupid. They know what they want: the good (for them, not for you obviously) business of empire. They also know what they do not want: they do not want cuts in arms production, they do not want to trim the monstrous army of Defense Department contractors making semi-private war throughout the Muslim world (those private armies are gold-plated and drive the best SUVs), they do not want to be forced to provide health care to people who cannot pay top dollar for the service, they do not want their Wall Street gambling habit (using your mortgage payments) to be taxed, they do not want to spend corporate earnings for stuff like clean drinking water, they do not want teachers' unions demanding higher teacher pay (which would lead to more educated and therefore more argumentative citizens).
This essay could have been far more detailed, with lots of statistics, but others, such as the eminent Stiglitz, have done that work. What I hoped to do here was make the message clear, and I don't know how to make it any clearer than this. Now you understand the Washington budget debate. Have a nice day.