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Perry, Cain and Flat Earth Government

Posted on Oct 23, 2011
Gage Skidmore (CC-BY-SA)

By E.J. Dionne Jr.

It’s one of the strangest things in our politics: The only “big” ideas Republicans and conservatives seem to offer these days revolve around novel and sometimes bizarre ways of cutting taxes on rich people.

Given all the attention that Herman Cain’s nonsensical and regressive “9-9-9 tax plan” has received, the Republican debates should have as their soundtrack that old Beatles song that droned on about the number nine.

Now, Texas Gov. Rick Perry hopes to pump up his campaign with a supposedly bold proposal to institute a flat tax, which would also deliver more money to the well-off. Perry plans to outline his proposal this week, but has already touted it as a surefire way of “scrapping the 3 million words of the current tax code.”

There is absolutely nothing new about this idea, and candidates who pushed flat taxes in the past saw their campaigns flat-line, most prominently businessman Steve Forbes in 1996 and again in 2000. Politically, the idea falls apart rather quickly when middle-income voters realize that its main effect is to cut taxes on the financially privileged while usually raising them on Americans with more modest incomes.

Note to Perry: Voters are shrewd in figuring out whether tax proposals really benefit them. It’s why raising taxes on millionaires—the exact opposite of what Cain and Perry want to do—wins support from a broad majority.


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But the more interesting question is: Why are today’s Republicans so enthralled by tax gimmicks? This is a party that was once innovative in thinking about affirmative uses of government. The Grand Old Party instituted the Homestead Act and created land grant colleges, the interstate highway system, student loans, the Pure Food and Drug Act and, yes, a prescription drug benefit under Medicare.

It was Richard Nixon who supported laws establishing both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In signing the OSHA bill, Nixon called it “one of the most important pieces of legislation, from the standpoint of 55 million people who will be covered by it, ever passed by the Congress of the United States, because it involves their lives.” Yes, government regulations save lives, which is now a heretical view in the GOP.

It is because Republicans have boxed themselves into a rejection of both their own traditions and the idea that government can do any good that they are confined to endless fiddling with the tax code. Almost everything conservatives suggest these days is built around the single idea that if only government took less money away from the wealthy, all our problems would magically disappear. 

There is a history to this. The Republican fixation on taxes goes back to the mid-1970s when supply-side economics began taking hold. The late Jude Wanniski, an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal who campaigned indefatigably on behalf of lower marginal tax rates, came up with the “Two Santa Clauses” theory. He argued that if Democrats earned support by giving voters benefits through government programs, Republicans should play Santa by giving people tax cuts.

Wanniski sold his tax ideas to Jack Kemp, one of the most ebullient political figures of his generation, who in turn sold them to Ronald Reagan. Reagan made Kemp’s 30 percent tax cut (co-sponsored with Sen. Bill Roth) a centerpiece of his 1980 campaign. Political scientist Wilson Carey McWilliams perfectly described the result in a 1981 essay. “After years of learning that ‘you don’t shoot Santa Claus,’ ” he wrote, “the Republicans decided to nominate him.”

But Republicans have a problem now. In the Kemp-Reagan days, they were selling across-the-board tax cuts. Most of their benefits flowed to the rich, but almost everyone got a piece. Today, many Republicans complain resentfully that less prosperous Americans don’t pay enough in taxes—overlooking the fact that citizens who don’t pay income taxes still shell out a significant share of their earnings in payroll, sales and (directly or through their rents) property taxes.

Reagan’s optimism has thus been replaced by crabby put-downs of the less affluent. Perry said it directly in his announcement speech: “We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax.” Considering the other injustices in our society, this seems an odd and mean-spirited obsession.

“Tax the poor” is a lousy political slogan. That’s why Cain’s 9-9-9 plan and Perry’s flat tax are doomed to fail. Among conservatives, Santa Claus has given way to Scrooge.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

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screamingpalm's avatar

By screamingpalm, October 26, 2011 at 9:43 pm Link to this comment

We progressives must educated ourselves and take care not to cast aspersions
carelessly as has been shown here.

The failures of the left summed up perfectly! wink

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, October 25, 2011 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment


I like Ron Paul, but I don’t think he has a chance.  This over a year ahead of the election.
Why is that?

The media slights him.
He attends but isn’t a presence at the Repub debates.

I know he won’t quit.
And, although he has staunch and loyal supporters like you, nothing he says or does seems to resonate, cause a stir or evoke passion on a wide scale.

I find myself nodding in agreement, saying to myself and others “that guy makes sense.”
And then we don’t hear about him again for weeks.

He is polite and wise, but looks tired.
Stranger things have happened but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which he wins.

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By felicity, October 25, 2011 at 10:00 am Link to this comment

Reality check:  It’s not the inherent
rightness/wrongness, goodness/badness of, say,
government handouts, taxes, government regulations,
even socialism, it’s who is benefited that determines
their acceptability.

Take the ‘dole.’  Bad when applied to the poor
because it leads to their “moral entrapment” but when
applied to entities like banks and investment firms
(think bail-outs) it’s quite necessary, acceptable,
probably even moral.

Face it, we are being ruled by a wealthy elite who
have managed to cultibate an atmosphere of lawless

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James M. Martin's avatar

By James M. Martin, October 24, 2011 at 3:55 pm Link to this comment

Alas, you express no opinion on how the Republican debates might affect independent voters and progressives who find in Obama the lesser of two evils at this point.  None of the GOP candidates is “perfect” in that all come with baggage of one sort or another, but the Mormon is likely to get the nod, if only to get rid of him for 2016.  It is striking that the more religious the candidates, the less Christian they seem.  If he ever existed, the Jesus of the gospels would shun people like Santorum, that nutty congresswoman, the pizza jerk, and the man who brought you Tom DeLay, finding them far too Pharisean
and utterly lacking in that most Christian principle: Compassion.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, October 24, 2011 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment


We need RP as the Republican candidate. 

He would raise the level of discussion in the debates between stuck in status quo and those of us who want less government and less intrusion into out daily lives.

I want to see the Democrats adopt a similar positions.

We need a Dr. No in the White House.

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, October 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm Link to this comment

@Marian Griffith
I like flat taxes for their simplicity, but agree with you that progressive taxes are more equitable.
Please look at the link in my earlier post to see how 9-9-9 can be made progressive.

As for it not generating necessary revenues, I’m not sure about that.

Wish I had an answer for you about Ron Paul.  Saw him Sunday on Meet the Press (2nd billing to Hillary Clinton) and he made perfect sense to me. 
It appeared that David Gregory didn’t like him —or is that just me?
I’ve often wondered, with his anti-war position and all, if Paul wouldn’t have done better running as a Democrat.

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PatrickHenry's avatar

By PatrickHenry, October 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm Link to this comment

These guys collectively haven’t recieved half the votes in the Republican straw polls around the country that Ron Paul has. 

Why are they still being entertained as potential winners and why isn’t Ron Paul getting more press?

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, October 24, 2011 at 2:36 pm Link to this comment

Ever hear of demagogues?  They say what their audience is
drooling to hear. The Greek root word for demagogue is a
combination of two words, demos and agogos which means
‘people’ plus ‘guide’, meaning “a leader of the people.”  In
ancient Athens, “the people” or demos, were considered by the
elites to be an uncivilized mob so a literal translation is mob
leader. For centuries now, the word has had a slightly different
negative connotation meaning a leader who has manipulated the
emotions and prejudices of the rabble.  Today, when applied to
politics, a demagogue is a political speaker who gains favor by
pandering to or exciting the passions and arousing the prejudices
of the audience.  Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin are said to be two of
the most famous demagogues in 20th c. history.  Mr. Cain and his
Republican colleagues all sound to my democratic liberal-tainted
ears like demagogues.

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By Marian Griffith, October 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

—-But I like Cain’s direct-speak style & his move for a simplified tax code.—-

He may be a good speaker, but that does not mean what he is saying is making economical sense.
Flat tax, which is what he is advocating, has always had a recognised weakness amongst economists, namely that ‘the lower the income the smaller percentage of it is not taken up by fixed expenses (like rent or mortgage and food). Somebody who earns 10000 a year can much less afford to pay 900 in taxes than somebody who earns 100000 a year can afford 9000 or somebody who makes a million can afford to pay 90000 in taxes.
Besides this problem with the principle of flat tax, the bigger issue is that the tax income generated by his proposal would not cover even a meaningful fraction of the expenses of government. European countries run on a 19pct vat, between 30 and 60pct income tax (which includes capital gains regardless of source) and up to 5pct on property tax (actually that figure varies much more wildly). These countries do not spend that much more per capita than does the USA (true, they spend more on social security and infrastructure but they spend considerably less on military and they do not lock a significant percentage of their population out of tax paying jobs (like putting them in jail).
To be economically feasible Cain’s plan should read in the order of 25-25-25 (or even more) which not only does not sound quite so nice, but also shows that that poorer 60pct of the population will get hit brutally with this plan one way or another. Either because they lose 25pct of their pay check AND see all prices increase by 15pct. Or the government goes bankrupt within two years and cuts services back to Somalian levels.

And believe me that the ratings agencies will have some very unkind things to say about the credit rating of the USA if it is moronic enough to cut out more than half of its already grossly insufficient tax revenue.

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, October 24, 2011 at 11:48 am Link to this comment

Dionne dismisses Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan as “nonsensical.” 
But I like Cain’s direct-speak style & his move for a simplified tax code. 
His 9-9-9 plan can be easily tweaked into a progressive tax design.

Dionne agenda has become fully transparent—support for the re-election of Obama. 
But that shouldn’t blind his readers from good ideas that emerge from other sources.

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, October 24, 2011 at 10:50 am Link to this comment

i“Almost everything conservatives suggest these days is built around the
single idea that if only government took less money away from the wealthy,
all our problems would magically disappear.”

you can say that again!!!!!”

Okay! “Almost everything conservatives suggest these days is built around
the single idea that if only government took less money away from the
wealthy, all our problems would magically disappear.” !!!!!

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By Doug, October 24, 2011 at 9:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Almost everything conservatives suggest these days is built around the single idea that if only government took less money away from the wealthy, all our problems would magically disappear.” 

you can say that again!!!!!

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By Jim Yell, October 24, 2011 at 7:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We have been here before. We can take a lesson from the devolution of the Roman Empire, an often slow process of death, brought on by priviledge and greed.

The Roman Empire was incredibly wealthy, but their social system, while containing elements that would develope into modern economics was tied to ridgid social and economic piracy. The government found ways around the regulations that had been place to protect the people from the rich. The rich pretended to care about the poor and thru their control of the government protected their wealth and extended it from the responsbilities to society in general.

Because of this the government became paralized and could not do the things it was obligated to do to secure safety for everyone. The solution was probably worse than the disease. The military slowly over came all legal regulation and placed the power to govern into the hands of military leaders with the fiction that it was done by civil aggreement. Huge amounts of public revenue went to inrich the miltary at the cost of everyone else. The politically powerful gobbled up everything else.

As time progressed the mega rich formed their own armies and detached their personal estates and those they were able to seize from the “central government” and oddly as the barbarians moved across and occupied the provinces of Rome, they cut deals with the government and pretended to have become Roman Administrators. The army and the ruling military didn’t wish to try the fortunes of war and quietly agreed to these deals. Finally so much government revenue was drained from the treasury that the government stopped performing the basic responsiblities of government. When the Empire was in danger from invasion they had to cut deals with the great landowners and in all but name independent rulers of vast portions of the Roman State.

It was a very slow process in most cases, but it gave us the fractured and incoherent divisions we now have across Europe and North Africa. A process very similiar can be seen in the events of today. The rich use every device to not just steal from the poor but to steal from each other. No thought, no obligation to the society that enriched them. All energy focused upon adding one more million to their bloated and unsustainable wealth. Meanwhile the environment is destroyed, the stability of the country is destroyed. It is so obvious that a conclusion seldom made, but true is the wealthy and powerful act like spoiled and over indulged children, unable to share anything.

In fact American Rich are acting a lot like the recently dead dictators in the middle east and others.

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By Connie Farabaugh, October 24, 2011 at 7:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Pennsylvania does have a flat income tax.  But we also have Tax Forgiveness based on income levels that forgives anywhere from 100% to 10% of the tax for low income residents.  Not exactly what the Republicans are pushing.

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By FRTothus, October 24, 2011 at 7:20 am Link to this comment

“[The ruling elites] know who their enemies are, and their enemies are the people, the people at home and the people abroad. Their enemies are anybody who wants more social justice, anybody who wants to use the surplus value of society for social needs rather than for individual class greed, that’s their enemy.”
(Michael Parenti)

“Four sorrows ... are certain to be visited on the United States. Their cumulative effect guarantees that the U.S. will cease to resemble the country outlined in the Constitution of 1787. First, there will be a state of perpetual war, leading to more terrorism against Americans wherever they may be and a spreading reliance on nuclear weapons among smaller nations as they try to ward off the imperial juggernaut. Second is a loss of democracy and Constitutional rights as the presidency eclipses Congress and is itself transformed from a co-equal ‘executive branch’ of government into a military junta. Third is the replacement of truth by propaganda, disinformation, and the glorification of war, power, and the military legions. Lastly, there is bankruptcy, as the United States pours its economic resources into ever more grandiose military projects and shortchanges the education, health, and safety of its citizens.”
(Chalmers Johnson)

“It is the function of the CIA to keep the world unstable and to propagandize the American people to hate, so we will let the establishment spend any amount of money on arms.”
(John Stockwell)

“Our upside down welfare state is “socialism for the rich, free enterprise for the poor.” The great welfare scandal of the age concerns the dole we give rich people.”
(William O. Douglas, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, 1969)

“The principal power in Washington is no longer the government or the people it represents. It is the Money Power. Under the deceptive cloak of campaign contributions, access and influence, votes and amendments are bought and sold. Money establishes priorities of action, holds down federal revenues, revises federal legislation, shifts income from the middle class to the very rich. Money restrains the enforcement of laws written to protect the country from abuses of wealth-laws that mandate environmental protection, antitrust laws, laws to protect the consumer against fraud, laws that safeguard the securities markets, and many more.”
(Richard N. Goodwin, former speechwriter for John F. Kennedy)

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By Marian Griffith, October 24, 2011 at 6:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All the same, one should not underestimate the ability of the republican spindoctors to convince their voting audience that black is white and that they are better off with paying more to support the richest people in the world.
After all they are preying on the people who donate a significant percentage of their income, money they can hardly spare, to support megachurches and millionaire tv pastors.

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John M's avatar

By John M, October 24, 2011 at 6:20 am Link to this comment

Funny, we have a flat tax here in Pennsylvania and I
haven’t sen one marcher in the street complaining of
a regressive income tax. And while E.J. notes
“overlooking the fact that citizens who don’t pay
income taxes still shell out a significant share of
their earnings in payroll, sales and (directly or
through their rents) property taxes.” No one I know
over looks it, since they are paying all of those
plus the income tax. Everyone needs to pay some
income tax, it keeps everyone focused on where the
government spends and wastes their money be it wars
$700.00 hammers or a failed war on drugs or a
thousand other rat holes….

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Shenonymous's avatar

By Shenonymous, October 24, 2011 at 3:49 am Link to this comment

Way…ellll you see that finger of Rickydick Perry?  He is saying to the
American people, “Sit on it!”

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By John Mariachi, October 24, 2011 at 12:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In just two comments we have the following loaded words used:  lunacy, god,
rampaging, wild, Mongol, plot, achmud (sic), destroy, cancer.

That’s a total of 9 words that add nothing to a rational conversation or opinion,
and these are from the progressive bench, it is assumed. 

We progressives must educated ourselves and take care not to cast aspersions
carelessly as has been shown here.

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, October 24, 2011 at 12:41 am Link to this comment

The lunacy of the Republicans is very obvious, especially to truthdig readers. Would be interesting to see what Dionne thinks about his god Obama rampaging through the Middle East and Africa like a wild Mongol.

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By NZDoug, October 23, 2011 at 11:36 pm Link to this comment

The Repub party is a plot by Achmud Jimmy of Iran to destroy Americe by cancer from

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