For good or for ill, we left the barter economy behind a few thousand years ago aside from the occasional church supper or tag sale. That means, as the poet has it, “getting and spending” or nothing happens; there is no economy. The principal means governments use to function is money for salaries and materiel and skills and services. So all governments, even China and Venezuela, must spend to function and must tax to get (even if borrowing is the first step). So the question is not “tax and spend” but who is taxed how much for what kind of government functions. War is the most expensive government undertaking (in blood as well as in treasure) and the current two “wars” have been financed entirely by borrowing. If one is opposed to the wars, one should point out how it does not work to achieve its stated goals, that it uses immoral means, and so forth. It is not an argument against war as such or even a particular military adventure to say that it is the most colossal example of “borrow and spend”.
So if you are opposed to a government program, attack its effectiveness, efficiency, fairness, proportionality, necessity, and so forth. It is not an argument to say it is another instance of “tax and spend.” Everything a government does, including running Gitmo and border patrols, is a matter of taxing and spending.
The same with taxes. If you are opposed to taxes you are against all government. So you must attack a particular tax because of its type, or its amount, or its distribution, or (in the case of fees or user tax) its utility.
It is politically arduous to attack social security or health care or designated infrastructure investment as bad spending. It is hard to denounce progressive taxation that distributes burdens according to abilities.
So one just attacks deficits and taxes in the obligingly convenient abstract.
Recall that tobacco companies never promoted smoking over public health measures. They only promoted freedom.
Obama has for a while been trying to assert the necessity of worthy government taxing and spending by calling it “investment” — which surely education, infrastructure, R & D, etc., are. Subsidies for agribusiness and sugar growers and exemptions for oil corporations, as they have developed by very powerful entities gaming the system, are surely not true investments, but examples of wasted spending that loot tax revenue.
Since the status quo of welfare for the rich and corporatist self-interest must be defended at a time when the outrageous nature of these abuses is more broadly known, we are hearing a great deal about deficits and taxing and spending totally divorced from context, unless it is the context of entitlements and social services.
“Investment” according to the current GOP line, is code for “tax-and-spend”. I would say that if you call a clear description of a program goal, code, while pretending “tax and spend” is an honest straight matter of fact with no political hidden agenda, I have a name for you which requires no code at all.
It is a shame that such obvious truths must be paraded because there is such a tsunami of cultivated ignorance in public discourse. But the essential evasion of “tax-and-spend” is part of a broad suite, from “competitiveness” to “constitutional.” Ironically, this comes at a time when political rhetoric is subjected to an entire industry of media criticism solely from the point of view of rhetoric blithely free of substantive policy relevance.
John Stuart ran a clip of a Fox “debate” where the Fox moderator petulantly cut off the Democrat who was listing the actual parts of the health care program that people favored. “Please, we are not discussing what’s actually in the bill, we are debating the name of the bill (Job Killing or Job Destroying) to repeal it.”
Recently, a freshman tea party congressman stated that direct election of the Senate made it the only branch of government that was “unconstitutional” and he was not Steve Colbert in disguise. Nobody laughed or vomited.