by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
October 20, 2011
A LIFETIME LIVED IN THE TWILIGHT YEARS OF THE AMERICAN DREAM
BRADENTON, Fla., Oct. 18, 2011 -- As a result of some sort of corrupt media consensus, CNN's Anderson Cooper flagrantly orchestrated an attack on Herman Cain at tonight's GOP presidential debate. Cain did well in responding, but CNN's role as a political orchestrator will be suspect from now through the next several debates.
The orchestration began when Wolf Blitzer, in a pre-debate interview with Cain, segued (with just a few seconds left in the interview) from a conversation about Israel's release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners - charged with dozens of different crimes, under war-like circumstances - into whether Cain would free all the prisoners in Guantanamo for one American hostage. The context of the speeded-up interview wasn't clear from the tape or the question based on it, and Cain later admitted falling into the trap CNN created, and. He said, "I misspoke."
That was the second time in the night they tried to embarrass Cain. The first was the controversy over Cain's saying that he would electrify a border fence and put a sign alongside it saying, "Touch this and it will kill you."
Whether it was a joke was evident in the audience's response: they laughed out loud. But Cain told Sheriff Joe Arpaio's crowd in Arizona today he was not walking away from the idea entirely, and told the debate crowd he would want a border security regime consisting of technology, a fence and the proverbial "boots on the ground."
The clever thing about Blitzer's lightning-quick question trap - obviously designed to feed into the debate, where Cooper framed Cain's response as a question that might entrap him again - was that it posed the Israeli response against a potential American response. If Cain condemned Israel, that would open a new avenue of criticism; if he said the U.S, under Cain might do the same thing, it would not repudiate the Israeli behavior but would condemn him in the eyes of an American electorate.
The right response, of course, was that he would not respond to a hypothetical question on an issue of that gravity, while noting our relationship with al-Qaeda, a weird terrorist organization on the other side of the world, is far different than that of Israel and Palestine, immediate neighbors separated by history, religion and opinion, not distance. Into this quandary, Rep. Ron Paul threw a zinger: none of the al-Qaeda prisoners have been convicted of anything, he said.
Cain took his cue from the Israeli response, saying he could see himself doing the same thing, but then accepted the premise that it was negotiating with terrorists (rather than saying Hamas is essentially a diplomatic antagonist), which is something the United States supposedly has a strict policy against doing.
Ron Paul, offering Cain a defense, deflated that factoid in a hurry, noting that President Ronald Reagan negotiated with Iran by offering weapons under Oliver North's Iran-Contra operation. "Are you all willing to condemn Ronald Reagan for trading weapons for getting hostages out of Iran?" he asked. Santorum offered other examples. Newt Gingrich added that Reagan later said in a book that he didn't know about it at the time and that doing so was "an enormous mistake."
Under Anderson's skilled manipulation of the attack on Cain's 9-9-9, a project encouraged by all the other candidates, the singular fact that what his opponents want to brand a Canadian-style value-added tax, or VAT, is clearly not. That's because under his plan, goods don't get taxed again and again at each stage of production, but only once and only when they are new.
If someone were to return a new car to the their dealer after the 3-day waiting period most states allow - say, three weeks later - it would then be a used car and would not be subject to the national sales tax. Food would also be exempted. I have not yet read Cain's Fiscal Associates analysis of the tax, which I couldn't find at www.hermancain.com, but excise taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and gasoline probably would be retained.
As explained on his Web site, "Unlike a state sales tax, which is an add-on tax that increases the price of goods and services, this is a replacement tax. It replaces taxes that are already embedded in selling prices. By replacing higher marginal rates in the production process with lower marginal rates, marginal production costs actually decline, which will lead to prices being the same or lower, not higher."
As a progressive, I know that state sales taxes are regressive, taking a larger portion of their income from the poor than from the rich. But as Cain points out, it is the multiple taxation of goods as they pass through the system, from creator to end-user, that is the larger nut to be cracked. That creates the larger tax and cost burden on the end-user, and a replacement tax as Cain defines it could reduce these sneaky costs.
If you have to pay a 9 percent national sales tax and a 6 percent state sales tax for a refrigerator that costs $700, the tax would be $105. But if eliminating intermediate "invisible taxes" would reduce the sales price to $450, the total tax would be $67, or $25 more than the state tax alone would have been. If the price was reduced to $300, it would be just a $5 difference. We all know little about how much the invisible taxes add to the ultimate price, so this example may or may not hold water.
Cain noted that there are five invisible taxes on a single loaf of bread, all of which he would eliminate. If food is exempt under his plan, there would be no tax on it and bread might cost half a dollar less.
The first question, "What would be the effect of replacing the national income tax with a national sales tax?", which came from a man CNN planted in the audience, is not what Cain proposed and was immediately misstated by Anderson Cooper. He is apparently one of those that Cain said doesn't undertand his plan. Cain wants to replace the graduated income tax with a flat 9 percent personal income tax.
Cain does want a 9 percent national sales tax, but the erring question was the one Cooper asked. Bachman immediately attacked on the basis of Cooper's misstatement, and made one of her own when she said the sales tax Cain has proposed would be added on top of all the invisible taxes and be a VAT. It would not. Only the final product could be taxed under Cain's plan, as with the loaf of bread. On a used car, the buyer would pay no tax except the state sales tax (and some states, like Florida, have none). Thus, you could buy a used car in Florida and pay no federal taxes at all.
The key question, though, has to be whether those in the 47 percent who currently pay no income taxes would support a tax that would have them pay a 9 percent income tax plus a 9 percent national sales tax, both on top of state and local income and sales taxes where they exist (Florida has neither one, but Florida counties ands cities may have sales taxes). That is really a moral, and possibly a patriotic question, even though 1920's-era Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said all of us should do our best to not pay any taxes at all.
Currently, I pay no taxes because my income is extremely low, far below poverty level. I can survive because I own my own home and have paid off my car. Asking me to pay 9 percent of my $412 a month Social Security income and the $100-odd a month I make from The American Reporter would be painful, but at least I could say I have contributed to the country thast has allowed me to do so much. And I would be contributing through the 9 percent sales tax, too.
Being a contributor - I give $5 at a time to President Obama's campaign once in a while, for instance - makes me feel part of something rather than just a cast-out victim of everything. Becoming a paying contributor to the upkeep of America, and all it means to each of us, could only strengthen our collective sense of democracy. It would make it real as only fighting for it and paying taxes can do.
We don't need CNN and its hosts to play the role they do in these national debates. It was Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives that reminded CNN, and all of us, that the seven unmoderated three-hour debates between Abraham Lincoln and his opponent, Stephen Douglas, were the best America has ever had.
Cooper responded by saying CNN would love to host them. I say we should try that. To forgive him a bit for tonight's travesty, I can add that Anderson did what he did at least partly in the interest of creating entertainment value; he couldn't have known that Rick Perry , Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum already had that covered.
The debate left Cain as a top contender, but it may have eliminated Gov. Rick Perry for looking like a guy not ready for prime time. It also diminished Rep. Ron Paul, who sometimes came off as a little crazy, and elevated Rick Santorum to fourth-runner status. It also eliminated the pleading Michelle Bachmann from serious contention beyond the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.
The fact that Romney was able to invoke the rules of debate to silence Rick Perry's attack on him as a hypocrite on illegal immigration - because Romney had hired a lawn-care company that hired illegal immigrants to mow his lawn - drew strong applause from the crowd.
The rules, unfortunately, allow someone to persist in a lie when someone else wants to interrupt him. That gets us no closer to the truth, but it works very, very well when tested. Perry was booed as much for breaking the rules as the for the charge he made.
In the end, one single element stands out: Cain is the only one with a "big idea" for solving America's problems. While the other candidates may have plans and make proposals, none but 9-9-9 seem to reach the heart of the American majority and the consensus that will elect a President.