Herman Cain has done what Dems couldn’t in 2008

It’s become sport to knock the leading GOP candidate de jour off his or her pedestal. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry were easy targets. Herman Cain has maintained a position at or near the top for nearly a month. While some mock him as just a glorified pizza man or another bogus “motivational speaker” from the right, he has succeeded in doing what no candidate from either party has done in recent memory. He has Republicans and Democrats alike talking about real issues – ones which often challenge our embedded thoughts and generate fresh thinking.

You may not like the 9-9-9 plan, but chances are that you have a pretty good idea of what it is. That means that you’re thinking about personal income taxes, corporate taxes, and sales taxes. If you watched the debate from Las Vegas, you heard a great deal about the value-added tax and how it Cain’s opinion, that’s not part of 9-9-9.

Television journalists, who frequently run away from discussion of substance, have taken a certain fascination in Cain’s ideas and are peppering the other candidates to offer their thoughts on 9-9-9. The result is some light being shed on our tax code and a glimpse at fresh ideas to reform it. Americans are trying to gather information on subjects about which they had not previously thought. What is a valued-added tax? First, it’s somewhat complicated. Second, it’s fairly common in Europe. These are two factors that many Americans, particularly Republicans, don’t want to go near. They prefer ideas to be distilled to the most simplistic form and for them to be perceived as home-grown with no connection to those socialist, wine-sipping, hedonistic Europeans. Despite that, many want to know what the value-added tax is. According to Investopedia, it’s:

What Does Value-Added Tax – VAT Mean?

A type of consumption tax that is placed on a product whenever value is added at a stage of production and at final sale. Value-added tax (VAT) is most often used in the European Union. The amount of value-added tax that the user pays is the cost of the product, less any of the costs of materials used in the product that have already been taxed.

Investopedia explains Value-Added Tax – VAT

For example when a television is built by a company in Europe the manufacturer is charged a value-added tax on all of the supplies they purchase for producing the television. Once the television reaches the shelf, the consumer who purchases it must pay the value-added tax that applies to him or her.

This is not easy to understand, but Herman Cain has us trying to do so.

Compare the dialogue that Cain has promoted with two recent focuses of the two major parties:

1. For the past several decades, the Republican Party has portrayed itself as the party of “family values.” Candidates measure their bona fides by how conservative they really are on these “social issues.” Are they truly anti-choice? Do they really oppose stem-cell research? Are they fully committed to saving the life of a 93-year old in a coma while opposing Head Start? If so, they are Republicans in good standing. They are also certified members of the club of politicians who dumb down our political dialogue.

2. Democrats danced around the particulars of health care reform during their 2008 debates. The vagueness of their ideas (in stark contrast to how Cain presents 9-9-9) left the public with a cloudy idea of what reforms the candidates actually wanted. It’s not surprising that the lack of clarity of their ideas was a precursor to the Affordable Health Care Act (euphemistically called “Obamacare” by detractors) that passed in March, 2010. It’s basically what the “Big Three Candidates” (Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards) wanted; to help people by expanding coverage but to also take good care of their donors associated with health insurance companies.

There was an excellent opportunity to clarify the debate, but the press punted on the opportunity. Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich stood alone in support of a single-payer health care program (which we must now call by the sanitized but accurate name of “Medicare-for-all”). The six-page bill that he and over 70 others sponsored (H.R. 676) called for universal coverage for all Americans provided by and administered by the federal government and funded by either an increase in the payroll tax or in the personal income tax. It would save most individuals out-of-pocket expenses because while their taxes would go up, they would be freed from the shackles of health insurance premiums, often $9,000 / year or more).

Debate after debate Kucinich clearly and effectively explained the plan. I was curious to hear what Obama, Clinton, and Edwards would say about it. I never found out because through the entire series of debates, not a single “journalist” asked any other candidate to respond to this proposal sponsored by Kucinich and most of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Instead of that, ABC’s esteemed George Stephanopoulos had time to ask Barack Obama what may be the most bizarre question in the history of televised debates, “Do you think that Reverend Wright loves this country as much as you?”

Herman Cain has been peppered with questions asking him to drill down into the specifics of the 9-9-9 plan. So far no journalist has come close to matching Stephanopoulos with a question to Cain that is so absurd, irrelevant, insulting, and non-enlightening.

Cain has economists crunching new numbers to see if the 9-9-9 plan is what he says it is: (a) revenue neutral, (b) fair to everyone including the poor, and (c) easy to administer. Other Americans with intellectual curiosity are sitting down at the kitchen table and analyzing how the 9-9-9 plan would play out for their family finances in relation to the current tax code.

It’s likely that Herman Cain will not get the Republican nomination and that he may become just a footnote to history. Even if his ideas do not survive the test of intense scrutiny, he should be praised for elevating the dialogue. I would love to see him get the Republican nomination so that he and Barack Obama could have a serious discussion about taxation as well as the role of government. Like his Republican colleagues, Cain demonizing ignores the fact that taxes are necessary because government services are necessary. Republicans discount the words of wisdom from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

Should Cain debate Obama, the president would be the advocate of plans to enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for America’s low-income and middle-income individuals and families. He would be free to draw contrasts including support for a more progressive tax system, increased government spending to jump-start the economy, and further reforming health care so as to reduce costs and diminish the power of insurance companies.

It would really be up to the press to determine if such a dialogue would take place. I’m not betting on the press. However, I do feel that a Cain-Obama race might be the substance-oriented debate for which many Americans crave. It’s not likely, but stranger things have occurred. A fallback option is Cain for VP resulting in an interesting an enlightening debate with Joe Biden. In the words of that American non-intellectual, George W. Bush, “bring it on.”