The Ballad of Tim Kaine; Or, How Not to Talk About Tax Rates

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 20 2012 12:16 PM

The Ballad of Tim Kaine; Or, How Not to Talk About Tax Rates

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CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 04: Candidate for the US Senate, Virginia former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine speaks during day one of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 4, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The DNC that will run through September 7, will nominate U.S. President Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

In 2012, Democrats have a pretty cheap and simple tax message. Let the Bush tax cuts on top rates expire. Tax reform? Sure, eventually. But trust us, we only want to tax the rich -- as, according to polls, all of you voters do.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

For some weird reason, in today's debate with George Allen, U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine repeated this line then got tripped up by a softball question about Mitt Romney's "47 percent" tape. His tax plan: "Let the Bush tax cuts expire, as planned, for people making more than $250,000." (Almost right, close enough.) But Gregory saw an opening on the philosophy of the "47 percent."

GREGORY: Do you believe that everyone in Virginia should pay something in federal income tax?
KAINE: Well, everyone pays taxes! I mean, the statistics that have come out..
GREGORY: I'm asking about federal income taxes.
KAINE: I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone, but I do insist, many of the 47 percent that Gov. Romney was going after pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than he does.
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This is one of the dumbest ways a politician can get tripped up. No one -- literally no one -- has a serious proposal that would make "everyone" pay a minimum income tax. This was obvious in 2011, when Michele Bachmann was occasionally asked to explain this concept, and muttered some stuff about even paying "a dollar" would learn 'em about how government cost money. Any Democrat, especially a Virginia Democrat, knows that any statement that sounds like willingness to raise taxes can be turned into 100,000 or so TV ads.

But instead of saying something like "everybody already pays payroll taxes and sales taxes," or -- even simpler -- "No, David, I don't," Kaine endorsed the Bachmann/Perry concept of a minimal tax rate to end the great problem of Moocherism. One of the most obvious unforced errors I've ever seen.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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