Samuel Elliot Morrison and Henry Steele Commager, in their History of the American Republic, argue that Republicans of the 19th century lavished pensions on veterans to spend the money collected by protective tariffs, and prevent a budgetary surplus that might otherwise have fueled calls for the end of the tariffs.
They're still doing it.
If it weren't for our grotesquely outsized military budget, Social Security, which has collected surplus revenues for decades, might be so well invested as to live on dividends, or might have loaned to the US, at Treasury bond rates, the money needed for health care, renewable energy, or universal free education.
All of this is glossed over by the common guy because we have shiny things. Who cares if life in America is getting worse by the year? We have shiny things.
But it doesn't need to be this way. The choice is ours, if we care to make it.