It’s the time of the campaign season for Republicans to go to war with each other.
Well, not really “war”; more like a tug of war. If you’ve read this blog any length of time, you know the analogy I’m going for. Politics isn’t a sprint. It’s not even a marathon. It’s a tug of war – or really an endless series of tugs of war, for control of everything from the Presidency down to the Soil and Water Commission, not to mention the various political parties,. It’s a tug of war where, every two or four or six years, you take a snapshot and see how far to your side of the mud puddle your side has pulled each of the ropes.
And it’s the GOP’s turn to tug like mad.
Herman Cain has been pulling way about his weight, so far in this cycle. And supporters of other candidates are pulling in response.
My friend Gary Gross at Let Freedom Ring is one of them, in a piece entitled “Why
Why 9-9-9 is stupid is because it’s being proposed by a Republican. If Democrats want to propose it, then they own that proposal. If a Republican proposes and passes it, then Democrats raise that rate, Democrats can rationalize it by saying they’re just raising a tax created by Republicans. In essence, they’d be saying ‘it must not be bad because Republicans proposed it’.
There is a good point there – but let’s be honest, any tax reform can be hijacked by the party in power. It’s incumbent on candidates and parties to not only propose better ideas, but wield the electoral power it takes to defend them. Even Reagan’s reforms got hijacked, in not a few cases.
Frankly, a pretty impressive case can be made that 9-9-9 is capable of doing alot more damage than the current tax code. A fairly easy case can be made that Rick Perry’s flat tax and Newt Gingrich’s tax overhaul are significantly better tax reforms than 9-9-9.
That’s all true, well, and good.
Now – go out on the street, or even into a GOP meeting, and ask anyone to explain Perry’s flat tax proposal (although it’s really not that hard). OK, how about Gingrich’s plan?
Indeed, how about getting interested but non-wonky voters to explain any tax reform ideas of the past 30 years, correctly?
Tax reform proposals have two problems. The complex proposals, like Gingrich’s, are in the realm of the wonk; nobody who doesn’t live and breathe politics knows a whole lot about them. And the relatively simple ones, like Perry’s? There’s the big problem; to the extent that any politician has ever really talked about them, it’s been largely in the form of lip service. No serious candidate for President has ever seriously pinned their campaign on radical simplification of the tax code.
Serious, radical tax reform has never been anything but a side show in any Presidential campaign, even within the GOP.
And that is why Cain’s proposal is a wonderful thing, in concept if not in actual details (because Gary and the other critics are right; a national sales tax would be a problem); because Cain is, to my knowledge, the first serious presidential contender to try to make adoption of a flat tax a real campaign-defining issue with voters – the kinds of voters who, bless their hearts, do need a catchy, easy-to-remember formula.
Do we need a better one than 9-9-9? Absolutely. But 9-9-9 has made a flat tax – some kind of flat tax – part of the political conversation. And while I might favor something more like Perry’s plan (I’d personally like to see a flat 15% corporate tax and a 15% personal tax on income above the poverty line, as well as Perry’s cap on federal spending tied to the GDP, a ban on bailouts, and a balanced budget amendment), at least the subject is seriously on the table.
The details, we can work out – but it is vital that this issue get out of the side-show tent and into the center ring.
And now that the issue is there, we can work out the details.
And that is a good thing.