Who You Calling a Tax-and-Spend Liberal?

Commenting on the British elections, Sullivan writes:

I also fear that the battering of Blair means a future Brown government will keep increasing spending and so hamper Britain's post-Thatcher renaissance. I'd happily vote Tory this time on those grounds alone. Of course, no one on the Labour left in Britain is proposing the kind of government spending that Bush Republicans are engaged in. In that sense, Bush is far to the fiscal left of anyone in current British politics. What an irony. We used to think that even British Tories were more liberal than America's Democrats. But Bush's and DeLay's massive spending and borrowing makes Blair look like a born-again Thatcherite.

Wha?  C'mon now, Andy must be aware that liberalism is about more than some deep-seated affinity for borrowing-and-spending.  No one reading my blog could mistake my politics for anything but those of a lefty, and yet even I don't spend my nights scheming out how to drain America's coffers through some devious cocktail of borrowing and spending.  Not most nights, anyway.

That's one of the interesting distinctions separating Democrats from Republicans.  Democrats have a social vision, an idea of how government should interact with its citizens and a menu of social programs and initiatives that'll bring it about.  What we don't have is a particular attachment to any method of raising the revenue.  Some of us want to deficit spend, some want to raise taxes, some want to wait for better economic times, some want to divert general revenue from other ends, and some have novel combos of the above.  But it's all cases the funding decisions are means to our ends, how we finance our programs are rarely, if ever, ends in themselves.

That's a pretty stark contrast with the right, which is  more focused on how they fiddle with the government's finances rather than what they do with the money.  That's why so much of their intellectual firepower has been spent convincing Americans that tax cuts are indeed a social program par excellence, an economic prescription for every fiscal situation.  Tax cuts, of course, are not only a way to shrink the government, but through the Laffer curver, a way to raise its revenues.  They're not only, according to Bush,  the only logical thing to do during a surplus, but they're also crucial during a recession.  The entirety of the right's economic philosophy is really the idea of tax cuts as a means to most any end, which has allowed them to not only slice taxes but do so while enlarging and adding new government programs.

In that way, Sullivan's really concentrating on the wrong folks when he tries to define a party by their spending habits.  Liberals don't much care how we get the cash, we're defined by what we want to do with it.  Republicans, on the other hand, are almost solely focused on this single way of managing the government's finances, and because they've concocted all manner of fantastic explanations for why tax cuts are rational in every situation, are much easier defined by the cycle of cut, spend, and borrow because that, not some further end, is what they enter government in order to do.  Saying it's really the left who is identified by it is just a transparent attempt at projection.

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