Is Cain Able?

I always have to suppress a grin when a Presidential candidate says something. Anything at all. For the most part, I believe candidates for office will do, say, or deny anything necessary to accomplish their goal of getting elected. Thus today’s examination of Herman Cain, pizza magnate and candidate for our highest office.

Let’s start with my main Cain beef. Cain supported TARP, kind of, well yeah, but not after it actually happened and still does, though only if the government doesn’t just pick its friends to receive financial help. Is anyone else confused?

His TARP support alone sets him at odds with Tea Partiers, but that did not prevent him from winning Florida’s straw poll handily. It was more of a loss for Perry than a win for Cain in my view. I frankly thought Cain was out of contention weeks ago. Why Cain’s appeal in spite of his TARP support?

One reason is that Cain has found a way to communicate a revision of the tax code that is understandable:

Praised by supporters for both its simplicity and its specificity, Cain’s plan drops the current 35 percent corporate tax rate to 9 percent, swaps the 6-bracket personal income tax system for a 9 percent flat tax and creates a 9 percent national sales tax.

Most libertarians and some conservatives would find the first two parts of the proposal palatable. The third is problematic.

A new sales tax at the federal level not only conjures up images of yet another way for the Federal Government to get into the pockets of its citizens; it also has some horrific administrative problems. For example, would the tax be added to state taxes? How would it be collected, as states are traditionally jealous of their control of state sales taxes?

Cain’s most sensible tax tactic, however, may be the way in which he frames his 999 proposal.

The plan flattens and simplifies the tax code, but it is politically clever because Cain says that it is the first phase into eventually implementing the Fair Tax. This allows Cain to appeal to the fervent group of FairTax proponents in the GOP while also keeping (sic) remaining viable in a potential general election by promising to the replace the tax code immediately with the FairTax.

The Fair Tax is a plan worth looking at. Breathtaking in its simplicity, its essential elements are the elimination of all current taxes on income, capital gains, and such with a uniform national sales tax. The boldness of this proposal alone may garner support for Cain.

On other issues, Cain has the mark of a neo-conservative. He opposes same-sex marriage, supports the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has offered the opinion that it would be legal to ban mosques (a position he later recanted). Except for the inexplicable TARP flub, Cain appears to be a free-market supporter, favoring it as a solution to health care, energy, and (partly) education.

After Florida’s straw poll, it is apparent that Cain is not to be counted out just yet. Will he see his way clear to the nomination? The next few weeks will be telling as his TARP position is examined more closely. Cain needs to tell us just how far his free-market support extends and just how hard he is willing to push for the Fair Tax.* Then we will know whether Cain is able.

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*This should not be taken as my endorsement of the Fair Tax. I think it has merits, but I have not studied it enough to form a firm opinion.

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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