Will someone please just give Herman Cain a chat show?
It's becoming clear that this is what the Godfather's Pizza magnate is really campaigning for, while he goes through the motions of campaigning for the Republican nomination for president. Despite a surge in the polls, Cain raised just $2.8 million in the third quarter of this year for his presidential campaign. He has only $1.3 million in the bank—dramatically less than senatorial or congressional candidates. He has no serious ground campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire, where key early contests are held. And his performance recently on Meet the Press suggests that Cain isn't ready for Sunday morning geek-hour, let alone prime time.
Cain is proposing a "9-9-9'' tax plan, one that would impose a 9 percent tax on income, corporations, and sales. It's appealing in its simplicity, especially to those who dread filling out tax returns and those annoyed with tax loopholes that benefit others. But it's not clear Cain has thought this through. The individual tax is regressive, levying the same percentage burden—and thus, a heavier relative burden—on lower-income Americans. The corporate tax has a certain appeal, since large companies now utilize legal tax dodges to avoid paying taxes at all. But the tax could also be passed on to consumers.
But the sales tax belies common sense at a time when our consumer-driven economy is at risk of descending into a double-dip recession. First of all, sales taxes are now already levied by state and local governments to pay for municipal programs. So most Americans wouldn't be paying 9 percent on purchases; they'd be paying much more. Cain's answer? "These are replacement taxes. They're not on top of anything.'' Nice in theory, except that Cain can't explain how he'll convince states to give up a revenue source. Pressed as to whether some consumers would end up paying 17 percent or more on purchases, Cain said, "If you combine it together, yes, you would get that number.'' But "that number'' is not theoretical to consumers. A major reason companies aren't hiring is that demand is down. How will people be encouraged to buy more if the sales tax is higher?
And that remark Cain made about installing an electrified fence along the Southern border to kill illegal immigrants? "That's not a serious plan,'' Cain said, adding that the suggestion to electrocute people trying—albeit illegally—to find a better life here was a "joke.''
Cain's an entertaining guy, and could do well in a show where people shout crazy things at each other. "I've also said America needs to get a sense of humor,'' Cain said on Meet the Press. Maybe, but election year is approaching, unemployment is still stuck at 9 percent, and the budget is a mess. It's time to get serious.