FALLING SHORT OF THE BARE MINIMUM FOR FISCAL CREDIBILITY…. It’s a pretty simple litmus test — those who want to reduce the deficit can’t insist that the Pentagon budget is untouchable. It’s an immediate credibility killer, reflecting a fundamental lack of seriousness about the subject.

Even some of the Tea Party crowd agrees that the enormous, bloated spending on the Defense Department has to be part of the mix when weighing cuts to the budget. A certain former half-term governor is trying to convince the right-wing “movement” to think otherwise.

Sarah Palin is waging a battle inside the “tea party” movement to exempt defense spending from the group’s small-government, anti-deficit fervor.

There’s growing concern among Republicans — and especially among the pro-defense neoconservative wing of the party — that national security spending, which is under a level of scrutiny and pressure not seen since the end of the Cold War, could fall victim to the tea party’s anti-establishment, anti-spending agenda. The former Alaska governor, as the unofficial leader of the movement and its most prominent celebrity, is moving to carve out such funding from any drives to cut overall government expenditures. […]

Palin’s drive to lead the charge against defense cuts was on display in a June 27 speech at “Freedom Fest,” a conservative gathering in Norfolk where she sent a clear message to Republicans that deficit reduction can’t come at the military’s expense.

In the speech, Palin insisted that she has a better understanding of military spending than Republican Defense Secretary Robert Gates. She wasn’t kidding.

Look, this doesn’t have to be complicated. The United States now spends about as much on defense as every other country on the planet combined. Secretary Gates has said, publicly and repeatedly, that the United States can’t keep spending such vast amounts of money on the military indefinitely. It’s simply unsustainable.

This year, even conservatives who have long considered the Pentagon budget off-limits are starting to come around. Reps. Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) worked with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) on a commission that recommended hundreds of billions of dollars in savings in defense spending. Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the ranking member on the House Budget Committee, conceded recently, “The Pentagon’s budget itself is not working right, so there are billions of dollars of waste you can get out of the Pentagon, lots of procurement waste. We’re buying some weapons systems I would argue you don’t need anymore.”

It’s the first hurdle that has to be cleared for the rest of the discussion to even get underway. Sarah Palin has already proven to be a fool, but for anyone serious about fiscal responsibility to take her advice seriously is ridiculous.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.