On page 572 of President Nixon: Alone in the White House, Richard Reeves says the following:
“What America did not seem to want was the aid Nixon had pledged to Vietnam, both South and North, in the peace agreement…[E]ven J. William Fulbright said aid should not be considered until after impounded domestic funding was released by the President…[Newsweek] quoted a Republican leader in the Senate as saying privately: ‘It won’t wash. How can a senator support cuts in hospital, flood and education spending at home and then vote money for the same thing in Hanoi?'”
The conflict between domestic and foreign policy has perplexed more than one Administration. That Republican Senator wondered how a Senator could support cuts in government spending for hospital, flood, and education, while voting to increase spending on those very same things in Vietnam. Well, more than one person asked during Hurricane Katrina how our government could get supplies so quickly and efficiently to Afghanistan, but not to people suffering from the effects of Katrina. More than one person has asked how the U.S. Government under President George W. Bush could spend money on universal health care in Iraq (see here), while opposing the notion that health care is a right here in the U.S. And Richard Nixon, in No More Vietnams, argues that President Lyndon Johnson held back from waging the Vietnam War aggressively because he was trying to safeguard his Great Society legacy.
Those who support spending money on programs abroad, while not supporting the spending of more money on similar programs at home, could perhaps argue that they’re not supporting foreign aid programs just because they are nice people. Rather, they’re doing so because those other countries that they want to support have a strategic importance. I’m not certain that they argue this, but I can imagine it. Perhaps they would have a point about those countries’ strategic or geopolitical significance, and yet I still can’t help but ask: Why are certain programs acceptable for people in foreign countries, but not for people in the United States?
The thing is, do we have to choose between foreign aid and domestic programs? There are times when we do feel that we have to choose. I remember watching the West Wing, and President Jed Bartlet told Zoey’s French boyfriend that the reason the U.S. does not spend as much money as France on domestic programs is because the U.S. is spending money protecting Europe! Do we have to choose? Well, if universal health care actually saves money, as some progressives like to argue, maybe we can have our cake and eat it, too. I don’t know.