Hercules and the HydraPollsters are constantly asking Americans how much the government spends on foreign aid and how much it ought to spend on foreign aid. The numbers never really change in any substantial way. In a poll in 2010, Americans thought that the government spends about 25% of its budget on foreign aid and that it ought to only spend 10% of its budget on foreign aid. In fact, the government spends 1% on foreign aid.

I know: Americans are ignorant. Nothing to see here. Dog bites man. Now if our political elites thought such rubbish, that would be a story. Jonathan Chait wrote a really insightful column this afternoon that addresses this very issue, Why Republicans Can't Propose Spending Cuts. Basically, his argument is that Republicans are vague on what it is they don't like about government. But they are just certain that government is too damned big!

This, according the Chait, is why Boehner keeps yelling at Obama for not offering spending cuts. It isn't a negotiating strategy. Rather, it is Boehner asking Obama to show him the hundreds of billions of dollars in government waste that Republicans just know is hidden in the budget. The problem, of course, is there is no such thing. By the standards of developed countries, we spend very little on social programs. We do, undoubtedly, spend too much on our military, but the Republicans wouldn't think of cutting that. In fact, think back on Romney's budget proposal: he wanted to cut taxes, spend more on military, and spend more on Medicare. What does that leave? Medicaid, basically.

How can we be surprised that Americans think our federal government throws away huge sums of money to help other countries who hate us? The Republican establishment thinks we throw away vast sums of money on... Something! Something bad. Something we certainly shouldn't be doing. At least the public have an object for their concern. The Republican establishment has the vaguest of ideas. Chait:

When the only cuts on the table would inflict real harm on people with modest incomes and save small amounts of money, that is a sign that there's just not much money to save. It's not just that Republicans disagree with this; they don't seem to understand it. The absence of a Republican spending proposal is not just a negotiating tactic but a howling void where a specific grasp of the role of government ought to be. And negotiating around that void is extremely hard to do. The spending cuts aren't there because they can't be found.

How do we move this country forward when one-half of the political spectrum is in an epic struggle with a mythical beast called "bad government" that not even they can see?