Well, by now, you all know that <a href="http://www.redstate.com/thesophist/2011/09/26/the-herman-cain-victory-scenario-in-which-i-return-to-the-fold/">I'm in the tank for Cain</a>. Which is not to say I'm in the tank against anyone else in the field just yet. Well, except maybe Ron Paul. But that's another diary.
So feel free to disregard this whole line of thinking as partisan pap designed to push my candidate of choice. Although, keep in mind that I want Cain to be your second choice, if he can't be your first, as I'm sure your first is still infinitely better than Obama. :)
In any event, there is a criticism of Cain that has been leveled throughout Redstate that I find... baffling. So this is my problem with the people who have a problem with Cain's 999 plan.
You can find quotes in comments throughout this site, but the essential criticism is something like this:
I like the 999 Plan in theory. But there's no way I'd support a national sales tax AND an income tax, because we just can't trust politicians not to raise taxes on us. It might start as a 9-9-9 plan, but will end up as a 29-29-29 plan in short order.
An entirely sensible position, to distrust politicians. At the same time, there are a few things really... off... about this particular line of criticism.
If You Assume The Policy Will Be Corrupted...
First of all, if the base assumption is that no matter how great an idea might be, DC politicians will find a way to corrupt it... why is the 999 plan singled out for special treatment? What makes anyone think that Romney's 87-page PDF Economic Plan won't also be instantly corrupted and changed? Or the FairTax that many people are gung-ho for, claiming that it is superior to the 999 plan. Superior how, if the assumption is that Congresscritters will instantly transform it into a basket of giveaways and boondoggles? Or even a Flat Tax?
If the starting point of evaluating any policy proposal or plan is that Congress will get in there and mess it up, I honestly don't see any reason to support any candidate on the basis of any issue. Because we'd have to assume that his/her great idea would just be transformed into a steaming pile of dung by Congress.
Which Leads To... Vigilance of the People
One particularly amazing critique of the 999 Plan theorized that we'd have President Cain coupled to a Democrat Congress, which would then result in the 999 plan becoming the 90-90-90 plan out of the gate. C'mon people; are we seriously contemplating that we'd all go to work trying to get the GOP nominee elected President, but skip out on all of the other races such that we'd end up with a GOP President and a Dem Congress?
The larger point -- one which I've raised -- is that the only way that the 999 plan (or any other plan on any other issue) is not transmogrified into some atrocity is the vigilance of the electorate. There is simply no way to trust a politician -- no matter whom, no matter what -- to do the right thing time and again. Absolute the only way we as a nation can defend our rights, get the policies we want, and prevent corruption by politicians is to be vigilant against such things and to keep up the pressure on all of them to do the right thing.
I've always thought that the Tea Party movement was a Great Awakening of sorts that signified that at least a very large part of the population had turned the corner on the vigilance issue. People who had never paid attention to politics suddenly became activists. Folks who had tuned out the Clinton years, the Bush years, even the Reagan and Carter years suddenly educated themselves on the issues, took to the streets, organized, and started to make their desires known.
The critique of 999 plan on "implementation" grounds simply assumes that these people -- you and me -- would work our tails off to win the election in 2012, and then go back to sleep. "Whew, we got Cain/Perry/Romney/Whomever into the White House! Our job is done here!"
If that's true, then we're all wasting our time. I like Cain; I trust Cain; I want President Cain. But I do NOT trust him enough to lay it all down after the election and go back to watching American Idol. No, sorry. I'll trust him, but will stay on top of what he actually does once in office to make sure that he does what he promised, that his 999 plan doesn't transmogrify into something bizarre, and so on and so forth. As Reagan once said, "Trust, but verify."
Isn't this the lesson of the past 40-50 years? That if we the people tune out government, bad things happen? And we find ourselves suddenly wondering, "How the hell did we get here?" Corruption, like rust, starts off small and hard to notice. And like rust, we can't wait until the damn thing has taken over half of the car before working on it.
To paraphrase Milton Friedman, it isn't so much that we need to elect the right people, but that we need to make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. By extension, we need to make it politically painful for even the right people to do the wrong thing. And the only way to create that environment is through vigilance.
No one told me this was going to be easy.
Which Leads To... Why Cain Is Great
Surprise! Well, not really, I'm sure.
I'm likely not paying enough attention to all the other candidates, but I have to say, of all of the people in the race today, only Cain gives me the impression that he gets this crucial fact about the relationship between government and the governed: vigilance.
Watch this video of Cain speaking to supporters in Orlando before the Florida Straw Poll. It's a homemade video so the sound and camera work aren't the best, but you can still hear him clearly. Notice how he talks about needing the people to apply the heat so that Congress will see the light. Now watch this homemade video from Smart Girl Summit 2011, where he lays out how exactly he's going to get his 999 plan implemented. (Yes, the sound and picture are not great.) He makes it plain that he's going to explain the plan to the American people, and that the American people will be the ones demanding that their elected representatives do the right thing.
"All I can do is tee it up, and make sure y'all understand it.... If people understand it, they will support it and demand it."
This is exactly the stance of a consumer-oriented business executive. When you're selling burgers and pizza to average Americans, you can't dictate to them what they should want. You have to listen to what consumers want, create that product or service, explain through advertising and marketing that what you've got is what they want, and then hope they demand your product.
Even before he ran, for example at the 2009 Redstate Gathering, Herman Cain has been hammering home to those of us in the room our need to be Informed, be Involved, and be Inspired. Not just for a year or two, but forever.
So many of the other candidates seem to me to be saying, "Listen, elect me and I'll make sure these problems go away. You can relax, once I'm in office." It is the approach of the professional elite, like my accountant: Hire me, and you won't have to worry about complicated IRS tax rules, because I'll take care of it for you; because I know more than you do -- I'm an expert. And why not? Romney is an incredibly smart private equity investment operators. Bachmann was an accomplished tax lawyer. Paul is a medical doctor. Gingrich has been Speaker of the House, and has a Ph.D. in history. Their professional lives revolved around other elites, or in being the expert who takes care of a client.
None of them ever had to organize, mobilize, inspire, and somehow get a large group of average Americans to believe in a vision, to carry out tasks, and to work together to succeed. Cain did just that in his business career, most of which was spent in the fast food industry. Think it's hard to organize activists and voters? Imagine how hard it was to organize Burger King workers and to get them to move in the right direction, together, as a company.
It's one reason why I believe in the Cain candidacy: the guy isn't running to give us anything; he's running to make us demand things we want.
Criticize The Plan On Its Own Merits
Bottomline is that I would appreciate any criticism of any plan -- whether it's Cain's 999 plan, or Romney's detailed plan, or any other plan that candidates will put forth -- on its own merits. We can't have the central criticism of a plan be, "Well, that plan wouldn't allow me to go back to dreamland where I don't have to worry what the politicians are up to."
For example, you could reasonably argue that the 999 plan's national sales tax component would create a larger bureaucracy. You could argue that regressive taxation is immoral (the Lib/Prog position). You could maybe argue that corporations don't deserve tax breaks. Whatever you want to argue is fine, but let's have it be on the substance of the plan on its own merits, rather than on whether Congress will corrupt the hell out of it or not.
That isn't fair. And it betrays a lack of commitment to pay the price for liberty: vigilance, eternal vigilance.
No matter who is in office.