Sunday, October 23, 2011

At a glance: The 411 on Herman Cain’s 9-9-9

Herman Cain seems to be the flavor of the week as the Grand Old Party goes about its tortured efforts to select a presidential candidate. The election is still way off in the distant future, but the political battle has already shifted into high gear. In another few months, I imagine the candidates and their strategists will be in overdrive mode.

The only reason I dabble my metaphorical toe in this political stream is to take note of a report I heard on CNN earlier this morning while running errands here in the Land of Cotton. The reporter / commentator was gushing on about Cain and why he has managed to momentarily leap to the head of the pack. For months he had been stuck back with all the other single-digit wonders as Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts with the really good hair, held tightly to the lead among GOP contenders.

Then Cain revealed his three-number plan to fix all that ails the country’s economy by updating the nation’s outdated tax code. Overnight, 9-9-9 turned Cain into a frontrunner. The plain – a 9 percent business flat tax, 9 percent individual flat tax and 9 percent national sales tax – is easily understood and seems to make sense.

It’s also a really catchy, memorable phrase; the sort of easily digestible name thingy you might expect from a guy who made a fortune selling pizzas. It certainly has helped Cain stand out among a field of politicians who collectively fade into the background among an electorate with the attention span of your average toddler.

The problem is once commentators, economists and other politicians started ripping away at the details of the plan, Cain has been forced to rethink many of the bits and pieces of the proposal. At least one alternative, the 9-0-9 iteration, is aimed at aiding the working poor – they would be exempt from the individual flat tax portion of the proposal. I’m guessing in another few weeks that 9-9-9 will be a fading memory.

Of course, sounds bites and catchy phrases have been the meat and potatoes of politicians selling themselves and programs to voters since the days of Washington – First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. In the middle decades of the 20th century there was Roosevelt’s New Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society. More recently there have been the less grand, more amorphous concepts and selling points of Reagan’s Morning in America, Bush’s Shock and Awe and Obama’s Dare to Dream.

I fear 9-9-9 might not have the heft and staying power of Tippecanoe and Tyler Too or Remember the Maine. Then again, our grandchildren might be writing essays on their iPads – or whatever high-tech gizmos are the hot and new thing a generation down the road – about Cain and how he managed to salvage the nation’s economy with a cute phrase and a few simple ideas. Stay tuned!

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