Democrats still reflexively respond to the charge that they’re soft on defense by overcompensating with support for wars and extravagant defense spending. Yet before that charge was routinely leveled at them, Democrats were at least as hawkish as Repubicans.

This was never more apparent than during the Eisenhower presidency. In his 1983 book on the early strategists of the nuclear age, The Wizards of Armageddon (Touchstone), Fred Kaplan explains what happened in the aftermath of the Gaither Report, dedicated to the concept that the Soviet Union would soon outnumber the United States in nuke-bearing missiles by a wide margin. When the Washington Post ran a story hyping the Gaither Report, President Eisenhower, whose intelligence told him that it was grossly exaggerated

. . . was furious. . . . And he knew there would be political heat to take, as well. The Democrats were already making successful capital of the Sputnik affair, claiming that the Republican Administration was behaving too complacently, was endangering the nation by not spending enough money on more bombers and missiles. Now the Gaither Report was turning into another cause for political jubilation among the opposition. Almost at once, after the Washington Post story appeared, dozens of Democratic senators and congressmen took the floor to request or demand that President Eisenhower release the report to the public, which had a right to know the facts on which their lives as Americans were hanging. Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Henry Jackson, Mike Mansfield, John Sparkman, William Proxmire, Stuart Symington and others all eagerly boarded the Gaither bandwagon.

All these demands and all the panic, over Sputnik and over the Gaither Report, conveniently fed into another phenomenon that the Democrats were simultaneously doing their best to exploit — a sharp turn inside the American intelligence community that produced what came to be known as the “missile gap.”

As militarist as the Democrats have been since the Cold War until the present day, they still backpedal and allow themselves to be placed on the defensive about their alleged softness of defense. Obviously it serves some kind of purpose for them. Oh, to continue to feel justified in overcompensating and coming down on the side of war.

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