A good example of widespread cluelessness

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A question: What percentage of the federal government’s budget goes to foreign aid? Thirty percent? Twenty-five percent? Twenty percent?

In a poll conducted just a few years ago, respondents, on average, estimated that 26 percent of federal spending is a gift to foreigners.

The truth of the matter is that less than 1 percent of the federal budget goes to foreign aid.

But that little tidbit seems to have escaped the attention of, among many others, some guy I heard on TV the other day prattling about how the politicians in Washington are giving away the store to every foreigner who asks for it.

Mind you, my principal purpose here is not to defend the wisdom of foreign aid. The way I see it is that some of that aid goes to worthwhile programs and helps improve the lives of millions of people in far-off lands. And some of it probably is skimmed by corrupt foreign officials.  But again, that’s not my point here.

Rather, I’m more interested in the question of how this wildly inflated estimate of foreign-aid spending became so widespread. The answer, I’m guessing, is that right-wing Republican politicians encouraged such myth-making.

Some of the blame also goes to liberal Democrats who haven’t made enough of a fuss about the GOP’s demagoguery on this issue. But then, politicians in both parties have to face the reality that their constituents are far more interested in issues that directly affect them — or at least seem to.

In the final analysis, however, I think this matter is mainly an example of how right-wingers will seize on any myth that serves their purposes.