Now that Michele Bachmann has self-destructed and Rick Perry has four times stumbled over his tongue, Herman Cain has inherited the spot reserved, in this electoral cycle, for a conservative Presidential contender who is not the godfather of Obamacare. In the polls, he either leads the Republican field or is tied with Mitt Romney. In the latest Rasmussen match-up, he is the only Republican who leads Barack Obama.
None of this means much. Given the way that Barack Obama is running his campaign – as a nasty, divisive attempt to pit the poor, the shiftless, and their enablers against the rich – and given his incompetence at actually governing, he is likely to lose to almost anyone the Republicans nominate. BHO is the Democratic Party’s answer to Herbert Hoover. He has taken a severe economic downturn and prolonged it, and he is now intent on raising taxes on the investing class in the midst of that downturn. Come November 1012 all that the Republican nominee will have to do is ask: “How would you like four more years like the last four?”
Cain’s surge in the polls guarantees only two things – that his proposals will be closely examined and severely criticized by liberals and conservatives alike, and that, in the next debate, Romney’s proxies – Bachmann and Rick Santorum – will go after him as they went after Perry. Romney’s plans will, I think, escape close scrutiny and criticism for the simple reason that an economic plan consisting of fifty-nine different items cannot be described, much less attacked, in a soundbite. What no one can understand, no one can neatly summarize. It says something about Romney’s competence as a candidate that – except with regard to repealing Obamacare – he has engineered things so that no one can really say what he would do if he were elected.
Cain has chosen the opposite tack. His proposal is simple and straightforward and has a catchy title. His is a high-risk strategy – appropriate for a candidate who would ordinarily be marginal, appropriate for a candidate who cannot afford to sail under the radar.
The 9-9-9 proposal is radical. Regarding that, there can be no doubt. We now find ourselves with a choice between a candidate who is by instinct a social engineer, who does not regard the individual mandate as tyrannical, who is prepared to embrace the administrative entitlements state, and who thinks it more or less sufficient to take us back to 2006 – and a candidate who believes that we need to rethink the entire progressive project.
Cain’s proposal is radical, as I said. The real question is whether it is not also mad. Michele Bachmann argues that it is a mistake to add a national sales tax. This would open up an entirely new revenue stream for the federal government, and in time Congress would be apt to increase the tax. She has a point. The income tax started out small, and it grew and grew.
The other mode of attack, found in a piece published by the editors of National Review Online, is to carp. And carp one can. Retirees – at least those whose incomes are modest – will find the sales tax an annoyance, if not a burden.
I am, nonetheless, inclined to side with Paul Ryan and the mysterious economist at Stanford with whom Peter Robinson recently had lunch (my bet is that he was an advisor to Sarah Palin and is already being touted as Ben Bernanke’s successor at the Fed) in welcoming the proposal. It has three great virtues. It broadens the tax base. It encourages investment. And it shifts some (but not all) of the tax burden from personal income to consumption.
In the end, I do not find Bachmann’s criticism compelling. I very much doubt that the sales tax component would be increased. Taxes that we feel every time that we go to the store tend not to go up dramatically. What we notice we resent. Hidden taxes – such as the old corporate tax – are another matter.
In any case, we got into the mess we are now in at least in part because we borrowed too much and spent it. Cain’s proposal would not discourage savings and investment. If it were enacted, we would have the lowest corporate tax rate in the world. Multinationals based in the US would repatriate their profits and pay taxes here. The United States would again be a place where people wanted to do business; there would, I think, be a boom; and unemployed Americans would soon find work.
I am inclined to think that, even if we could somehow claw our way back to 2006, it would just be kicking the can down the road. The entitlements state is bankrupt, and tinkering with it will only put off the day of reckoning and make that day more of a disaster. It would be comparable to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We need to point our ship of state in a different direction – away from its inexorable drift towards soft despotism. What Cain is suggesting would be a start.
I wish that I could be confident regarding Herman Cain’s competence in other spheres. The Republican Party has let us down. Think of what we had to choose from in 2008 – Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Then think about the choices we have this year. There really is no excuse.
We will have to see what Herman Cain is made of. Helping us sort out that question may not be what comes first to the minds of Bachmann and Santorum, but they will help us nonetheless.