The problems with Thompson's and Huckabee's tax plans.
Huckabee's tax plan is honest in a third, and especially disastrous, sense: It is long and full of details. It has the same obsessive, endearing, and ultimately fatal desire to dot all the i's and cross all the t's as Hillary Clinton's notorious health-care reform. It would certainly be simple, at least for the typical citizen, who wouldn't have to file any forms at all. But it would not be simple to administer. ("SEC. 205. BAD DEBT CREDIT. Any person who has experienced a bad debt (this does not include unpaid invoices) is entitled to a credit which is equal to the tax rate times [the amount of the bad debt divided by (1 minus the tax rate)].") Got that? And this is from the "plain English summary," which you can open at almost any random page and find rich grist for opposition mills. The discussion of "taxation of hobbies" (Section 701) alone fairly cries out for misrepresentation.
Neither Thompson nor Huckabee has anything useful to say about the real problem, which is the huge gap between revenues and spending that George W. Bush, having inherited a surplus, is leaving behind. Thompson's willingness to take on Social Security would earn him some points for courage if he were planning to use the money to reduce the deficit or address the entitlements problem. But he wants to pour the money into new tax cuts for business, which is not just a bad idea but an incredibly lazy one. There's more to running for president than buying a round of drinks at the country club and asking what's on people's minds.
At least Huckabee's revenue neutrality would not make the problem worse. For this, the business wing of the Republican Party is hysterically labeling him a "fiscal liberal."
A what? For Republicans, the epithet liberal used to mean someone who wanted the government to spend a lot of money that it didn't have. Then it meant someone who wanted the government to spend what it had, but no more. Now, apparently, you are a "liberal" if you only want the government to spend a few hundred billion dollars a year more than it has.
Actually, the spending debate is now over, or should be. The GOP bluff has been called. Republicans had six years in which they controlled the White House and (for most of that time) both houses of Congress. They could have cut any spending they wanted. They did the opposite. None of the realistic Republican presidential possibilities is discussing spending cuts except in the vaguest terms.
But if you peer into the abyss of debt and say that what this country needs is another tax cut, that makes you a good conservative.
Michael Kinsley is a columnist for the Washington Post and the founding editor of Slate.
Photograph of Mike Huckabee by Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images.