Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bad dreams

Over the last year I have, from time to time, been sort of a buzz kill -- a political Eeyore, if you will -- in conversations with friends at DL, on FB , and such places, when talk of  a “GOP dream ticket” like Bachmann/Palin for 2012 comes up. (It's considered a dream ticket from the left's point of view, of course, on the assumption that it would be so self-evidently dreadful that Obama could coast to re-election. Me, I'm not sure why we'd want to give Obama even more sense of freedom to drag his feet on issues I care about, but let that pass.)

My objection at this point usually runs along these lines:

Yes, yes, it's funny to imagine such a “dream ticket” for 2012, one that would expose the ridiculousness, the fecklessness, the foolishness of American conservatism as it currently exists in the GOP. The trouble is, the mainstream media won't treat them as foolish -- it hasn't so far, has it? And the Obama 2012 campaign won't call them out on even the craziest things they say, so the “center” point for every issue I care about will be dragged inexorably to the right -- further to the right, I should say.

Case in point, this headline from ABCNews.com:
By Gary Langer
Oct 25, 2011 3:00pm

Flat Tax Outpaces 9-9-9 in Poll, Notably Among Conservatives

A flat tax like the one proposed today by Republican presidential candidate Gov. Rick Perry engenders a split decision in public opinion — if not the warmest reception, a better one than the public’s broader disapproval of his rival Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan.

While a flat tax divides the nation overall, moreover, it resonates most strongly in a group of particular interest to Perry – “very conservative” Americans, a key GOP voting group. They hold favorable views of a flat tax by a broad 68-28 percent in this ABC News/Washington Post poll, suggesting a strategic rationale for Perry’s initiative.

More broadly, there’s greater division: Americans overall split by 47-48 percent on the notion of a flat tax – that is, removing most income tax deductions and charging all taxpayers the same tax rate, instead of charging higher rates on higher incomes. That’s almost identical to the 48-48 percent split on a flat tax in a different ABC/Post question back in August 1996.

The nub of article is the question of which flat-tax proposal would be more popular, and the polling numbers give the horse-race treatment a comforting scientific sound.

But you can read that article first-to-last and never find the word “regressive,” never find a hint of the almost certain consequences of flat-tax policies for government programs that the readers might happen to like, never find any clue that the debate between the Perry tax “plan” and the Cain tax “plan” is simply haggling over details about the best way to redistribute the federal tax burden from the top brackets onto the middle and lower class.

It's all very interesting, in a reality-TV kind of way, to read how these competing flat-tax schemes poll, but what would really be nice is coverage of what they mean.

There's a mention in the article's final paragraph that as education level increases, voters might be more skeptical of the whole flat-tax idea, but it's a stretch to equate more education with more information on the issues. So it's by no means certain that even that group's skepticism is because they've rejected the underlying framing of the issue.

If political coverage like that goes on unchallenged and uninterrupted for another twelve months (and remember: the more knavish and anti-expertise the GOP finalists next fall, the more, not less, of that kind of  "even-handed" coverage you should expect to see), then a lot of voters might well think that this is what the tax reform debate is about: Which regressive flat-tax plan is better?

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