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Posted on Oct 14, 2011
Gage Skidmore (CC-BY-SA)

By Eugene Robinson

Just be patient and you, too, can lead the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. Witness the ascent of Herman Cain.

Don’t laugh. “There’s a difference between the flavor of the week and Haagen-Dazs Black Walnut, because it tastes good all the time,” Cain told reporters this week. “Call me Haagen-Dazs Black Walnut.”

All right, go ahead and laugh. Cain will surely respond with what has become his all-purpose retort: “As my grandfather would say, I does not care.”

At the moment, though, we don’t have the option of not caring. According to a stunning new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Cain now tops the GOP field with support from 27 percent of Republican primary voters, compared to 23 percent for Mitt Romney and just 16 percent for Rick Perry.

This is Herman Cain we’re talking about. The former pizza executive who has never held public office—and who considers that fact one of his prime qualifications for the highest office in the land. The African-American Republican who proudly says he “left the Democrat plantation a long time ago.” The major-party presidential candidate who developed his revolutionary—and nonsensical—tax reform plan by ignoring all those smarty-pants economists and seeking the advice of a Cleveland accountant.

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Such is the state of affairs in the Republican Party these days. With apologies to Mr. Black Walnut, he does seem to be the flavor of the week. There was a time when GOP voters thought Donald Trump might make a dandy opponent for President Obama. Then the focus shifted to Michele Bachmann, who won the Iowa straw poll and saw her national numbers soar. Then Perry entered the race and reigned briefly as front-runner before sabotaging his candidacy by showing up at a debate.

You knew things were getting weird when a non-candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, dominated the race for weeks. Now, with Cain’s emergence as a top-tier contender, things have gotten even weirder.

Cain’s contribution to American political discourse thus far is a novel debating technique: When confronted with inconvenient facts, say they’re wrong.

I’ve experienced the Cain Maneuver first-hand. During an on-camera interview several weeks ago, he told me that he doesn’t support privatization of Social Security accounts, but instead favors “the Chilean model.” As it happens, I once covered Chile as a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post. I know that the Chilean pension system, for better or worse, is studied in universities and think tanks as a model of privatization.

I pointed this out to the candidate. He told me I was wrong. He said what Chile had done was “personalization,” not “privatization.” There was, he maintained, a clear difference. He did not attempt to explain what this difference might be.

Cain uses this clever up-is-down approach to counter criticism of his signature “9-9-9” plan for tax reform. Cain wants to scrap almost all of the federal tax code and replace it with a 9 percent income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax and a 9 percent federal sales tax. Cain says he was helped in developing the proposal by Rich Lowrie, a financial adviser in Ohio whose degree is in accounting, not economics.

As Cain’s opponents pointed out in the last debate, the 9-9-9 plan is ridiculous. Most economists who have looked at the proposal say it couldn’t produce nearly enough revenue for the federal government to function. Moreover, it obviously puts a greater burden on the middle class while cutting taxes for the wealthy.

Cain dismisses these objections by saying that they are “incorrect.” That’s it—“incorrect.” Case closed.

In Cain’s world, things are that simple. In the real world of GOP politics, not so much.

The Cain boomlet owes to two factors. One is that while his economic ideas may be crazy, they are specific and bold. The other candidates mostly confine themselves to saying their policies will be different from Obama’s—without specifying how they might be different from, say, those of George W. Bush. Cain gets points for effort and likability.

The other factor is that the conservative wing of the party really doesn’t like Romney. He may be the eventual nominee but for now, the search for an alternative will continue. When Cain’s rocket fizzles—and quite likely it will—perhaps the well-financed Perry will make a comeback as the anti-Romney, assuming he finds a way to survive those danged debates.

So enjoy the flavor of the week while you can. Ice cream does melt.


Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group


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skimohawk's avatar

By skimohawk, October 16, 2011 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment

Carl, to answer your question about Mr. Limbaugh:
Q. “Who could he scapegoat with the repubs in charge?”

A. The same people he scapegoated when George W. Bush was in charge: everybody on the “other” side.

Limbaugh is just another over-stuffed turkey: madly flapping his wings, but too fat to get off the ground.

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By Queenie, October 16, 2011 at 8:05 pm Link to this comment

Black Walnut? More like Tootie Fruitie. Or just Nuts & Sauce.

Oh, and 999 used to be an emergency number in the U.K.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 16, 2011 at 7:06 pm Link to this comment

By cpb, October 15 at 10:40 pm Link to this comment

“It’s just another rich man’s scam to pay as little as possible and let everyone else go to hell in a handbasket.”

- ITW

Well Windy I hope you’re not being facetious with that one because I can’t say anything other than to offer a wholesale endorsement of the point.
************

Well, thanks.  No, I’m not being facetious.  The Re-thugs next target is the earned income tax credit, so they can increase taxes on the poorest Americans.  Check out the latest thread in REPORTS.

I was so frankly disgusted by Cain’s 9-9-9 “flat tax” figured a 50% “flat tax” would be equally unrealistic, though probably fiscally more responsible.

The phoney claims that the bottom 47% pay no taxes is criminal. They pay no FEDERAL INCOME tax, but pay withholding, state and local income tax, sales tax, personal property tax, fees on just about everything they want to do and barely can make it, if at all.

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By Carl Quinlan, October 16, 2011 at 8:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I tuned in to Rush Limbaugh; I was curious as to what he was telling his base. He was critical of Mitt; he didn’t like the “republican establishment” telling folks how to vote.

This surprised me. I thought he’d want to get behind the candidate (Mitt) all the experts say can beat the big “O” but instead he was bringing guests on who were critical of Mitt.

Then I got a crazy idea: What if Rush Limbaugh wants Obama to win 2012? Think about it: The economy is collapsing no matter WHO wins 2012. If a republican gets in, how is Rush going to spin the collapse? Pretend it isn’t happening? If the big “O” gets in, Limbaugh can continue heckling from the sidelines, saying the democrats are ruining the economy. His job is easier with a “democrat” president (as he would call him).

It’s a crazy theory, I know, but I wonder if Rush doesn’t want the difficult job of being a cheerleader for a republican administration while the worldwide economy tanks. Who could he scapegoat with the repubs in charge?

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By ardee, October 16, 2011 at 5:19 am Link to this comment

oddsox, October 15 at 3:28 pm

I offer my kudos for your thoughtful ideas regarding alteration of our tax codes and the ending of the disparity in contributions between the economic classes, and continue to enjoy the dialogue between the several folks, including ITW and cpb.

Once we find the right road our journey is inevitably shortened.

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cpb's avatar

By cpb, October 15, 2011 at 10:51 pm Link to this comment

@ oddsox

Sorry, but I can’t believe for a moment that the positives you describe are relevant as evidence for trickle down.  The key word in that phrase of course is, if/when it takes place at all, “trickle”.  I don’t doubt the realities you describe, I’m not in a position to question such, but “trickle down” is, and has always been, BS and PR. 

Trickle down is smoke and mirrors essentially.  Isn’t it wonderful that we’ve been starving the poor and denying health care to so many, all these years, so we could devote an insane portion of the budget to the cause of dominating space? and now with trickle down, the stupid and incompetent among us who can’t be bothered to learn to read a map get to have a talking tracking device mounted on their dashboard that guides them to their destination, possibly the nearest pizza joint in the town they are in that they may not be familiar with?  GPS is trickle down.  Swell.  I’ll take the map, thank you very much.  Now could we please have returned to us the billions spent on the militarization of space?

Incidentally it cost approx. 500 mill for each ejaculation of the space shuttle into space.  How wonderful that I can scout my driveway on google earth to guess when they last took a picture of it based on the height of the tree and the car parked in the driveway.  Thanks trickle down!

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By cpb, October 15, 2011 at 10:40 pm Link to this comment

“It’s just another rich man’s scam to pay as little as possible and let everyone else go to hell in a handbasket.”

- ITW

Well Windy I hope you’re not being facetious with that one because I can’t say anything other than to offer a wholesale endorsement of the point.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 15, 2011 at 7:49 pm Link to this comment

Oddsox, CPB,

I was, in fact, being facetious, and offering the OPPOSITE of Cain’s plan, phrased as a flat tax as well.  However, the numbers for those in the bottom end of the top 5% are fairly accurate.

I actually disagree: I don’t think Cain’s plan deserves a chance. The numbers simply aren’t there.  We would NEVER get the revenue needed for the Federal Government’s coffers.  It’s just another rich man’s scam to pay as little as possible and let everyone else go to hell in a handbasket.

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By oddsox, October 15, 2011 at 4:48 pm Link to this comment

cpb—

The larger point:  the purpose of the tax codes is not fairness but revenue generation.

If a 9% income tax rate causes the rich to gleefully pay and keep their money in the US rather than the Caymans, we may well be money ahead. 
Perhaps neither will they mind buying their Cadillacs and Lincolns with the 9% sales tax upon them.
Nor invensting in their corporations knowing 9% is the max tax rate.

Lower tax rates don’t always generate increased revenues (witness Bush tax cuts), but sometimes they do (witness under Reagan and JFK’s implemented just after his death).

Cain’s plan deserves a chance.  Much upside.

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By oddsox, October 15, 2011 at 4:37 pm Link to this comment

cpb—

I live in a low-tax state (relative to neighboring states) and see first-hand the flow of businesses, money and citizenry to where I live. 

If the USA were perceived as a tax haven for the wealthy, it would become a magnet for capital investment. 
The benefits would indeed, trickle down. 

For example, not all rich kids go to private schools.  The local public schools here are well supported and largely funded from lower levels.
All kids here benefit.
(Source of funding, by the way, is a better predictor of test scores than student/teacher or dollars/student ratios.)   
Same with the local hospitals and other health care providers.
And you’d be amazed the at difference in the state roads here vs. the in neighboring state.

We still have high unemployment, but that’s in spite of our tax structure, not because of it.

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cpb's avatar

By cpb, October 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm Link to this comment

@ ITW
I can take your word for it but I think Ardee makes some valid points below.  The specifics aren’t so important in any immediate sense, I think the general consensus would have to conclude that the wealthier one is, the more tax can be avoided and the less of their fair share they are paying into society. 

@ oddsox
As with ITW, you’re espousing ranges and rules and exceptions to make such a system approach fairness while making simplicity the over-arching aim.  This is a good thing says I.  However I think the idea that the rich should not pay more than 9% is ridiculous and typically it is the wealthy and powerful who argue for flat tax schemes; clearly advantageous for them.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 15, 2011 at 3:36 pm Link to this comment

CPB:

Take issue all you like but it’s in the tax code.  Those people are stuck paying alternative minimum tax and when you combine income tax, withholding, state and local income taxes, etc, they will be paying 50% of their income and NOT able to get the loopholes higher earners get.  Check with an accountant—don’t take my word for it.

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By oddsox, October 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm Link to this comment

An unpaid plug for Meet The Press, Herman Cain on tomorrow morning.

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By oddsox, October 15, 2011 at 3:28 pm Link to this comment

@cpb

We can turn 9-9-9 to a progressive tax system very simply.  And simplicity is it’s greatest virtue.

1) 9% sales tax: exclude groceries, meds, rents, utilities.  That’s where the poor spend most of their dollars.  And remember, we’re eliminating the regressive payroll taxes here.
Taxing consumption instead of labor would be a fundamental improvement in our tax system.

2) Exempt the first $20k from the 9% income tax.  Especially helpful to minimum wage workers, temps and youth.

3) Exempt the first $20k from 9% corporate tax.  Now you’re helping small biz, that’s where the most jobs are created.

Simplicity is also a virtue because it affords transparency. 
Unlike our current tax code, it’d be tough to sneak in increases or pet exemptions. 
Hard to go to 10-10-10 without everybody noticing.

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By IMax, October 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm Link to this comment

Inherit The Wind,

According to the polls I read upwards of 70% of independents, those whom decide elections, like Cain’s message.

-

Has anyone noticed how the “Wall St.” protesters are mostly white and nearly all are, in part, protesting the large Bank bailouts? - Just as the Tea Party began - We even see AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka, using racists language in talking about how it’s time to “take America back”.

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By ardee, October 15, 2011 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Income_tax_in_the_United_States

The top tax rate in this nation is currently 35% according to the chart linked above.

The problem is that working class folks pay income taxes, payroll taxes as social security, SDI etc. on their pay checks. Much of the income of the wealthiest is taxed at a rate of 15% ( capital gains tax) and is exempt from the pay check charges noted above.

Further, with loopholes and deferred compensation, stock gifts as bonuses and the various holes found in our overly complex tax code the wealthy pay far less in percentage of income than do the workers whose labors make them wealthy.

Consider then the corporation. We are all of us aware by now that General Electric earned six billion in profit a year earlier and paid zero tax on those earnings. Further they received another two billion in credits for their work in green energy sources. This is not an isolated story by any stretch. It has been reported that many of our corporations are piling up billions offshore to avoid the tax man here.

I join those who urge a revision of the tax code, a simplification that will allow a flat tax that makes percentage of income taxed the same for all, and that includes our corporations as well. This is in no way support for Herman Cain’s idiocy, both because his numbers suck, his pomposity and arrogance are incredible and a nine percent sales tax is penurious to far too many.

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cpb's avatar

By cpb, October 15, 2011 at 9:25 am Link to this comment

“How about a simple tax rate of 50% on all income? Covers income tax, social security, UI, etc.  Anybody in the $250,000 to $1,000,000 income level is paying that now, so it’s painless for them. The ones making MORE are the ones able to pretend income is “capital gains” and pay 15% instead.

Then as your income is lower and lower you get reductions of 5% at every lower threshold, so a family of 4 at exactly the poverty level pays 0%, and families below the poverty level get rebates.”

- ITW

I take issue with the statement that those earning a quarter million plus are already paying 50% though.  I don’t think that bears out in reality.  That said, it’s a great idea - numbers and rates over ranges to be determined - a fantastic outline that forces one to ask, Why is it so bloody complicated?  The answer to that question is telling….

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By Oceanna, October 15, 2011 at 8:44 am Link to this comment

It’s not pick your flavor, but pick your poison.  No, I’m not referring to the GOP
primaries, but to the two-party presidential election next year.

I’m not a Ron Paul supporter, but I was glad to see his surge.  It was either
because of his anti-interventionist stance, or despite it.  I think it’s because
Americans in general are sick of the perpetual wars declared ten years ago.  I think
it was also indicative of the viability of a dark horse candidate, particularly a third
party one. 

I’m feeling a shift, a major one, in the winds.  Finally.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 15, 2011 at 4:35 am Link to this comment

How about a simple tax rate of 50% on all income? Covers income tax, social security, UI, etc.  Anybody in the $250,000 to $1,000,000 income level is paying that now, so it’s painless for them. The ones making MORE are the ones able to pretend income is “capital gains” and pay 15% instead.

Then as your income is lower and lower you get reductions of 5% at every lower threshold, so a family of 4 at exactly the poverty level pays 0%, and families below the poverty level get rebates.

IOW, a simplified FAIR progressive tax code.


Never happen.

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cpb's avatar

By cpb, October 15, 2011 at 12:22 am Link to this comment

“If a simplified, transparent tax code is his gift to our country, it would be huge.”

- Oddsox

A simplified tax code sounds like a great idea.  But simple for simple’s sake isn’t any way to judge merit.  Sometimes “simple” is a polite way of saying “stupid”.  999?  Give us a break!

The complexity of the tax code has more to do with loopholes and workarounds and those that both write and benefit from all the “complexity” than any lack of desire for simplicity.  The complexity works best for those that can afford to pay the experts to navigate the complications and reap the rewards.  Flat taxes are sold on simplicity, but the benefits travel straight upwards.

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cpb's avatar

By cpb, October 15, 2011 at 12:12 am Link to this comment

“Humor aside, we are still well and truly screwed regardless of which Duopoly candidate wins this election. A choice between a republican clown or a republican consummate liar who happens to be the democratic incumbent.”

- Ardee

OMG!  That is one of the best ‘two heads, one snake’ summations ever!  Humor aside???  I think not.  LMFAO!!

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By Beltwaylaid, October 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Nein!  Nein!  Nein!

Ninety-nine Percenters cannot afford 9-9-9!

Keep the calliope playing.  The circus clowns from the fun house just opened up a big can of dupe-ass.

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, October 14, 2011 at 5:07 pm Link to this comment

@BR549, a good question about Cain & the Fed.

I’d like to know what Cain thinks about breaking up the big banks as his recently-retired colleague, Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig recommends.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/02/top-fed-official-wants-to_n_521842.html

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skimohawk's avatar

By skimohawk, October 14, 2011 at 3:13 pm Link to this comment

I am laughing, Eugene. I can only laugh at such buffoonery.
And while I’m laughing, I’ll remember that ardee is right in his comment below:
“Humor aside, we are still well and truly screwed regardless of which Duopoly candidate wins this election. A choice between a republican clown or a republican consummate liar who happens to be the democratic incumbent.”

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BR549's avatar

By BR549, October 14, 2011 at 2:51 pm Link to this comment

Is there some reason why no one has mentioned here about Cain’s relationship with the Federal Reserve; probably the single worst problem our country faces today? This guy is a freakin’ nightmare.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

ejreed, October 14 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

from Mr. 999
Herman Cain: Why I Keep Winning the Polls

**************

The annoying thing is when you LOOK at the polls he’s actually winning, it’s a miniscule percentage of the 63 or 64 million votes it takes to win the elections—a few thousand here or there.

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By ejreed, October 14, 2011 at 1:20 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

from Mr. 999
Herman Cain: Why I Keep Winning the Polls
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain says his
supporters don’t care that he’s never held public.
http://www.newslook.com/videos/360762-herman-cain-why-
i-keep-winning-the-polls?autoplay=true

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By litlpeep, October 14, 2011 at 11:58 am Link to this comment

This is worth considering a bit more:
“Cain’s contribution to American political discourse thus far is a novel debating technique: When confronted with inconvenient facts, say they’re wrong.”

This is hardly original with Cain.  Ronald Reagan was particularly good at it.  So was “fuzzy math” Bush the lesser.  Is there a Republican who doesn’t do it?  Perhaps some have a bit of finesse, and Romney seems so adept at; but Perry is also becoming known for having a huge denial issue.

Certainl Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu and Max Baucus and Schumer and Senators from Alaska Oil, and others are not unique in the capacities to finesse their denial of well-known facts.

Indeed, Obama seems to alarm more daily with his seemingly incurable denial disease.  Though Biden is getting better at correcting his denials when caught in public with them, he, too, seems increasingly comfortable just sloughing it off.

Cain’s unique contribution?  Hardly.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that his unique contribution is taking a tax policy from a video game.

Who knows?  Maybe the youngsters will invent a game of Collapsing GOP: Next?

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By squeaky, October 14, 2011 at 11:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

the republicans and the people that love them must remember that what we do in this lifetime will echo for eternity.

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By litlpeep, October 14, 2011 at 11:17 am Link to this comment

It is painfully to observe the GOP ego-balloons bursting before our eyes:  Pawlenty, Gingrich (though he seems to be in professional denial mode), Bachmann (denial ditto), Perry,.... Who will be next?  Romney? Cain? Not Paul; his fan list is growing, and only Obama has more donors upon whom to draw with a massively mechanized phone call.

And, as if God wanted to help the GOP exit stage right from the US politically staged tragi-comedy, the OWS seems to be revealing the lie to more things in a day than the sleepy, morally-absent ruling elite can newly hide in a month.

Attempting the math on this new challenge for the elite can be an interesting challenge; we can be confident some enterprising PhD candidate will newly discover a worthwhile challenging opportunity for his/her talents, skills, and other preparation. Perhaps most difficult is imagining the math on all that ruling moral torpor’s dramatically rising implosion pace.

Meanwhile, we should every one of us in the 99% say a soundly thought through prayer of thankfulness for the Great Spirit having guided the OWS wisely up to this moment, and ask that the guidance become more and more clear for each of us with every breath.

And we should also seek divine guidance for our every public word and deed.

Amen.

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By Inherit The Wind, October 14, 2011 at 10:17 am Link to this comment

I thought “Godfather” was known for lousy pizza…we can see why.  So…Cain got his 9-9-9 idea from a storefront “financial adviser” in Cleveland, who got 9-9-9 from….SIM City!  So, maybe the kids mastering the SIM series would be a better President than any republican.

So…about 1/4 of Republican PRIMARY voters like Cain…today.  That’s probably about half of whom will vote in then general.  So…that’s 1/8 of all potential voters. 

Now on the theory that 40% of voters are die-hard Republicans and 40% are yellow-dog Democrats, and 20% decide the election that means that 1/8 of 40%, or 5% of ALL who will probably vote in November of 2012 like Cain.

So roughly 5% of American voters like Herman Cain.  Hell, you don’t get out of “fringe” voting till you hit 10%!  One of the two candidates will be determined by that few numbers.

Yeah, our system is broken.

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By Anthro, October 14, 2011 at 9:35 am Link to this comment

Wonderful column Mr. Robinson! A very clever take on the non-candidates. Nice to
laugh for a change when the situation actually demands tears.

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By Oceanna, October 14, 2011 at 9:21 am Link to this comment

I’m confident vanilla white will reign as the GOP flavor of the primary, despite the
color of the candidate’s skin.  Same for the Dems.

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By oddsox, October 14, 2011 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

I like and respect Herman Cain.
If a simplified, transparent tax code is his gift to our country, it would be huge.
Sadly, agree w/Robinson—Cain has only a lottery-odds chance to win. 
My hope is he stays true to himself as he has thus far. 

Far-right Repubs and far-left Dems face the same dilemma.

They don’t like their respective front-runners (Romney, Obama) but have nowhere else to turn right now.

But the election is still over a year off.
Time enough for Perry to rebound or for Hillary to be drafted if the economy REALLY goes south next year.

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By oddsox, October 14, 2011 at 7:56 am Link to this comment

“At the moment, though, we don’t have the option of not caring.”
—ER

True, as always. 
And what do we care about most?
Jobs.

Despite the laughing cynics, the joker who is perceived as best-able to provide Jobs will win the 2012 election.

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By ardee, October 14, 2011 at 6:27 am Link to this comment

I am heartened to read that I am not the only person seeing the humorous side of this Republican slate of candidates. Is there one single name on that slate that could possibly be acceptable to anyone on the right side of sanity?

Mitt perhaps? Yet, after leading his state to a decent health care plan, making it second in the nation in providing such care, he spends most of his time repudiating that success. I guess he does indeed fit in with the rest of the buffoons.

Humor aside, we are still well and truly screwed regardless of which Duopoly candidate wins this election. A choice between a republican clown or a republican consummate liar who happens to be the democratic incumbent.

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By Tobysgirl, October 14, 2011 at 5:50 am Link to this comment

Did anyone see Letterman’s writers take on Cain/Bachmann? We laughed and laughed and laughed!

Herman Cain’s purpose in life is to prove African-Americans can be as dumb and callous as European-Americans. It’s a big job, but he can handle it.

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By EmileZ, October 14, 2011 at 5:08 am Link to this comment

I laughed.

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