The phrase “tax-and-spend liberal” has always been a pejorative. It’s meant to be said with a sneer. With an implied middle finger. Ever since Bush 41, it’s been spit at anyone who thinks government might have an actual purpose beyond cutting taxes, eliminating regulation, and eviscerating the social safety net — the time-honored Republican agenda.
But I have personally adopted “tax-and-spend liberal” as a badge of honor. I actually believe in the potential of big government, as well as in paying my fair share towards its upkeep. I am not oblivious to its shortcomings and disappointments — if anything I expect them. But I get incensed when I see people in government who clearly don’t believe in government. Especially when they ruin it for the rest of us.
And damn, this is the moment where government should have shined. This pandemic is exactly what government is made for. This is why we pay our taxes. This is why we elect public servants in, presumably, good faith. It should have been government’s finest hour. Instead we’re being lied to, stolen from, and murdered.
Government was never supposed to make financial sense. Its job is to do what needs to be done. To protect us in a crisis, whatever it costs. To invest in the things the private sector does poorly — healthcare, basic science, infrastructure and, oh yeah, epidemiology. To oversee the financial and medical systems so they don’t break down under stress. To gather reserves of key resources in the good times because they might just come in handy in the bad.
Without a good, strong, well-meaning government, we are easy prey for diseases and bandits. And right now we have both at once.
If we’d taxed and spent the way we should have, we would certainly have handled this virus better. But ever since Reagan told us that “government is the problem,” we have been among the least taxed citizenries in the western world. Keeping it that way has been the life’s work of any number of Republican hacks (What rock is Grover Norquist under these days?).
But it isn’t enough that we’re under-taxed. Or that being under-taxed was already causing widespread and irreparable damage, even before the virus. Or that the treasury is being looted. Or that our people are dying in inexcusable numbers.
No, even that’s not enough for these bandits. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote, with characteristic wryness, “Always grab much too much or you’ll get nothing at all.” The perfect motto for the GOP.
Remember the tax scam? The two trillion in tax breaks? I know, that’s so 2017. But the coarse venality of what Republicans did then is typical of what passes for government these days. Most of that tax break went to large corporations who then used it to buy back their own stock. A huge windfall for much-too-muchers, and a pittance for those with never enough.
In a desperate effort to make up for this colossal stupidity, we got a $2.2 trillion “stimulus.” Misnamed. It’s not a stimulus, it’s a rescue, and not much of one. Then last week, we got $350 billion or so for small business, however that gets defined. Apparently, the states will still have to twist in the wind — they won't get help paying their bills until Moscow Mitch heaves up another trillion or so. Add in the $2 trillion from the 2017 boondoggle, and we’re looking at roughly a $4.5 trillion down payment on a pandemic response that’s just getting started.
And all the while, tax revenue is falling through the floor. Unemployed people don’t pay taxes.
So by now it should be quite evident that tax-and-spend liberals are exactly what we need more of. Much more. The question is whether we can vote them into office before the much-too-muchers leave us nothing at all.