Rick Perry gained a supporter tonight.
I'll be upfront and say that I was leaning his direction already. As much as I'm drawn to Herman Cain's candor and optimism, the past three years have made me rather wary of electing a president with a dearth of political experience. Newt Gingrich has a veritable graveyard in his closet, and I'm troubled by some of his past policy positions on AGW and "green" technology. Mitt Romney is...Mitt Romney. Rick Perry seemed to offer the combination of conservative philosophy and a full resume of experience as a political executive for which I was looking.
Still, I wasn't ready to sign up with a candidate simply by virtue of their being the "least bad" choice. If I am going to offer someone my time, talent, and treasure, I want him or her to offer me something to believe in. I want that candidate to get me excited about something other than throwing Barack Obama out of the White House.
Tonight I read Gov. Perry's economic plan, "Cut, Balance, and Grow", and I got excited.
I won't bother offering an in-depth analysis the plan itself; Daniel Horowitz already did a much better and more thorough job of that on the Front Page of this very website. Instead, I'll talk about my encounter with the plan, and why I got excited, because I think a lot of regular people in America, those who aren't political junkies and whose primary concern is the welfare of their families and making sure that their children inherit a better country than they did, are going to have a similar reaction once they take a look at the plan.
My first question about "Cut, Balance, and Grow" was "How will this affect me?" I am a low-income American; last year I made less than $20,000, so regardless of the philosophical purity of any given plan, I worry about how a new tax regime will impact my pocketbook. Right from the get-go, the option of staying under the current tax system did a lot to assuage my fears of coming out the worse under a flat tax. For the multitude of flaws the current system has, at least I know what to expect from it based on past years' experience. Knowing that if worst came to worst, I could stay under the old system, put my mind at ease and allowed me to look at Perry's plan more objectively.
Reading through "Cut, Balance, and Grow" on Perry's website, I saw a lot to be impressed by. It seemed bold without being radical, detailed without being complicated, and conservative without being politically infeasible. Here was a plan that wasn't just a great piece of campaign literature, but that I could envision actually making its way through Congress and being signed into law.
However, I still wanted to know how it would affect me. I grabbed my copy of last year's 1040 and clicked on the "Sample Tax Return" page (PDF warning). That is what clinched the deal. As I said above, I was skeptical that, in the short term at least, I would come out ahead under Perry's new tax code, and I was ready to exercise my option to stay under the current system. Having done the math, I can say that I would jump at the opportunity to sign up for the new system.
The sample tax return took me less than five minutes to complete. I didn't have my state tax information on hand, so I skipped that deduction and just plugged in my total income, subtracted out the standard exemption, and calculated 20% of the remainder.
I was a little shocked! The amount I would have owed last year under "Cut, Balance, and Grow" was only half of my federal income tax withholdings for that year. My income tax to the federal government for the entire year worked out to less than two weeks worth of pay. I'm a low-tax, small government kind of a guy, but I don't find that to be an onerous burden to bear for the singular blessing of being an American citizen. Sure, I would be giving up the EITC (which was a big help to me this year in paying for job training and covering some out-of-pocket college tuition expenses), but that is a sacrifice that I would happily make to see some sanity restored to our tax code and our federal budget.
After looking at "Cut, Balance, and Grow", I did something unusual. For only the second time in my life, I made a political donation. Normally I restrict my "giving" to volunteer efforts in the weeks and months before an election, but Rick Perry's plan got me fired up for the first time this election cycle. I decided to put my money where my mouth is, so I sent him $20.20 to show my support for his "20-20" plan.
"Cut, Balance, and Grow" is a platform that I think has the potential to energize voters in 2012 in the way that the Tea Party did in 2010. I can see millions of voters looking at this plan just as I did, wanting to figure out if this is something worth turning out to the polls to support. I think a lot of them are going to get excited. I think a lot of them are going to turn that excitement into action. Look how the excitement generated by "9-9-9" took Herman Cain from being supposed vanity-run candidate to being a serious contender for the Republican nomination. "Cut, Balance, and Grow" has the juice to take Rick Perry from being just another Republican candidate to being a Republican president with a mandate to enact a conservative agenda.
To win the White House next year, we're going to need more than sunny words about America's future and a general loathing for Barack Obama. Our candidate for president needs not only to reassure Americans of our nation's future greatness, but to lay out a realistic plan to ensure that greatness. We want to believe, but we need a reason to believe.
I believe in "Cut, Balance, and Grow", and I think a lot of my fellow Americans will too. As of tonight, Rick Perry has got my vote.
Has he got yours?