Dick Cheney Loves War, Hates Food Stamps

The former vice president is angry that President Obama would spend less on wars and military, and more on aid for low-income Americans.

02.25.14 9:35 PM ET

In 2003, George Bush took two huge moves. He invaded Iraq, pushing the United States into a decade-long quagmire, and he signed a $1 trillion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans. In the past, presidents chose one or the other. You either cut taxes, or you fought wars, but you didn’t fight wars while cutting taxes. It was impractical, for the simple reason that wars aren’t free.

When confronted with this, Vice President Dick Cheney—who supported the wars and the tax cuts—dismissed the concern. “You know, Paul,” he said to former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter. We won the mid-term elections, this is our due.”

It’s not hard to see Cheney’s thinking here. To this supporter of preemptive war and conservative fiscal policy, wars and tax cuts were two great tastes that went together.

Fast forward to now.

Over the last few years, Barack Obama has drawn down our military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now, wants to make cuts to the Army. At the same time, he has expanded the social safety net with greater spending on food stamps, health care, and other services. Cheney isn’t pleased:

Appearing on Fox News’s “Hannity,” he said President Barack Obama “would rather spend the money on food stamps than he would on a strong military or support for our troops.” […]

To be clear, this is supposed to be an insult. If you were watching the interview, you were supposed to snort at the idea that you would use taxpayer dollars for food assistance, and not weapons.

Again, this isn’t so hard to understand if you grasp Cheney’s moral calculus. In his mind, America’s security is so threatened that wars, and high military spending, are always justified. At most, there’s more room for tax cuts, which for Cheney are always necessary. Food stamps—i.e. feeding poor people—are a lower priority, if they’re on the radar at all. And if tax cuts crowd out spending on food assistance, then it’s hard to see that the former vice president would have a problem with it.

What Cheney doesn’t seem to realize is that military families are key beneficiaries of food stamp spending. According to the Defense Department, military families spent more than $100 million in food stamps at military grocery stores last year. What’s more, in any given month, 900,000 veterans nationwide lived in households that relied on SNAP to provide food for their families. This is disgraceful—if you serve our country, your family should have enough to live on—but, for now, as it was during the Bush years, it's the status quo.

Which is to say this: Dick Cheney is happy to send men and women to war, but angry that they—or anyone else—would try to feed their families with government help.