Tuesday, November 01, 2011

The Republican "Flat Tax Fantasy" (Ross Douthat)

I have mixed feelings about Ross Douthat, one of the two designated conservatives among the regular columnists for the New York Times. But he's clearly a bright and serious guy (and less irritatingly tedious and superficial than David Brooks). Every once in a while, he hits the nail on the head.

For example, on October 27 Douthat became exasperated with some other right-wing pundits who correctly ridiculed Rick Perry's transparently cynical and unserious proposal for an "un-flat, optional 'flat tax'" (as John Podhoretz put it) ... but who continue to pretend that some better-designed version of a flat tax might make sense. Douthat suggested that such people should finally drop this perennial Steve Forbes fantasy and try to face reality:
In reality, the fact that Perry’s non-flat “flat” tax plan is egregiously cynical is the only remotely reasonable thing about it — because in the present socioeconomic landscape, the “hard work” of selling an actual flat tax would amount to a swift form of political suicide. A Republican politician could have all the eloquence, charm and charisma in the world, and he still wouldn’t be able to sell the American public — or even, I suspect, the Republican electorate, Herman Cain’s current poll numbers notwithstanding — on the notion that their own taxes should go up to pay for a tax cut for the top 10 or 5 or 1 percent of earners. (It’s fun to imagine the attack ads: “Rick Perry: He’s Ronald Reagan for the rich, and Walter Mondale for the rest of you.) The idea is both politically and substantively crazy, unmoored from the realities of both the current economic crisis and the decade of wage stagnation for the non-rich that preceded it. And the fact that this, of all things, has become the hot economic policy idea of the Republican primary season says something more devastating about the state of the G.O.P. than any of the other foolishness that Podhoretz cites in his column.
Right. So the obvious next question is whether the Republican party, in its current state, should be taken seriously as a potential governing party by anyone with a trace of intelligence and concern for the public interest. I'm not sure Douthat really faces up to that one.

—Jeff Weintraub

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