Is It Marketing, Or Is It Naivete? Herman Cain's 999 Plan, And Its Detractors

There are two front page stories directly attacking Herman Cain’s 999 Plan. They are both serious and fair attacks, by serious and fair people. I’ve been around a long time on Redstate and both streiff and Ben Howe carry a great deal of weight with me.

But I can’t help shake the feeling that they’re… willfully ignoring certain things to denigrate the 999 Plan. While risking being called a candi-bot or Cainiac or whatever, I’d like to undertake a defense.

Let’s All Agree 999 Plan Is a Great Idea

The first starting point — and this is important — is to recognize that everyone agrees that the 999 Plan is a great idea. Streiff admits “There is a lot that is superficially attractive about the plan.” Ben Howe goes further:

I’ll start with his 9,9,9 plan. On it’s face, there is a lot that I like about the 9,9,9 plan, besides its catchy name. I like that it lowers the personal and corporate income taxes to a low and flat level. I like that it eliminates other taxes like Capital Gains, Payroll & Self-Employment taxes. I like that it allows investments to be written off for business. There is a lot to like in this plan.

I haven’t heard a serious critique of the 999 Plan from the Right on the merits of the idea. For example, no one on the Right thus far has criticized 999 Plan for being regressive taxation on its face. I haven’t heard anyone critique it because it fails to combat the growing gap between the rich and the poor. Those are Leftist ideas after all.

From the Right, the criticism have all been on the merits of implementation, or rather, the impossibility of correct implementation. Hopes, rainbows, and unicorn farts.

On the Hopeless Naivete of Cain

So we get passages like this one from streiff:

The plan is unrealistic for two reasons: Congress must pass it and Congress must sustain it.

Anyone can see the inherent difficulties in passing the bill. Between the armies of lobbyists who would oppose the bill and the armies of lobbyists trying to make the plan an 10-9-4.3 Plan to help their clients the odds of passage in anything resembling Mr. Cain’s proposal approach zero. Mr. Cain is not going to have 60 votes in the Senate to prevent a filibuster and even absent a filibuster the responsibility for taxation lies in the House of Representatives. The House rarely, if ever, shows deference to a president, even one of their own party, when it comes to this core function. Again hope is not a method.

Distrust of Congress seems a fair stance. But hold that thought!

Here’s Ben Howe’s substantive criticism:

If the 9,9,9 plan played out exactly as Mr. Cain is suggesting, it might be fine. But the fact that he thinks for even a moment that it has a shot shows an ignorance of Washington unparalleled on that stage.

There are only two ways that I see 9,9,9 getting passed. One would be some enterprising Democrats realizing that they’ll have brand new money to play with and enthusiastically jumping at the chance to create a new revenue stream. The second way is if Gandalf the Grey summoned his giant Eagle friends to threaten members of Congress to make a constitutional amendment that forces it to stay exactly as it is…forever.

Believe me, I want the current tax code thrown out as much as anyone. I want to elect a Congress that will vote for a Flat Tax as well. But we can’t do that if we’re going to throw away all of our experience with government and ignore their penchant for taking a good idea and morphing into a monster.

Again, totally fair to distrust Congresscritters.

Both gentlemen — as well as most of the anti-999 folks — also take issue (as did Bachmann) that the 999 Plan might start out as 999 (assuming that Cain can get Gandalf to summon the giant eagle and get the bill passed), but it would be transformed into the 29-29-29 Plan in short order. Streiff writes:

You don’t have to be a genius to see how the 9-9-9 movie will end. It will be 10-10-10, 11-11-11, and so on because the plan makes no provision for capping increases.

So, in summary, we have:

  1. Cain is a political babe in the woods who has no idea how Washington works, and therefore, his whole 999 Plan is total nonsense suited only for fantasy novels; and
  2. Even if we assume miracles happen, and the 999 Plan gets passed, it will be corrupted by the evil wizards of Congress into the 90-90-90 Plan.

How’s All That Washington Insider Wisdom Working For Ya?

As a threshold question, I’d like to ask both gentlemen how all of the collected wisdom and savvy of navigating the halls of power in Washington DC have served conservatives and the nation in the past few decades. You know what? Forget the past few decades, when Republicans showed that they can plunder the public treasury as well as the Dems can; let’s focus on the past year and a half, since the tsunami of 2010 swept a new, Tea Party House into power.

There is this guy in the House, by the name of Paul Ryan. He became the Chairman of the House Budget Committee when angry voters sent him a flock of fiscal conservative freshmen. As I recall, he proposed a little budget plan under the name of A Roadmap for America’s Future.

As I recall, almost every single conservative — even the most devoted rabid activist types like us here on Redstate — supported the Ryan Plan. Quite a few people wanted Paul Ryan to run for President on the basis of that plan, of his rock solid fiscal conservatism, and the like.

Can we agree that if anyone understands how Washington DC works, how the levers of powers are pulled, how to work things so that they are acceptable to the untrustworthy Congress, Paul Ryan and his colleagues — people like Speaker John Boehner — are those guys?

Can we agree that given their extreme wisdom in the Tao of DC, they crafted a plan that was painfully moderate in its reach and ambition? For example, punting entirely on Social Security? (Which allows Romney to still be thought a conservative while mounting a defense of Social Security worthy of the #OccupyNarnia crowd.) Or, for that matter, not bothering to actually balance the actual budget until 2063?

But the Ryan Plan was seen as the height of sanity. What wisdom! What savvy! What deep understanding of the way that DC works!

Despite its wisdom, its political savvy, guess what? The Ryan Plan was defeated. The Senate Republicans didn’t even bother fighting for it.

Forgive me if I’m not all too enthused about the concept of being wise to the Way of Washington, if the result is that we can’t even get the Ryan Plan passed.

Forgive me if Cain’s response, when he was asked about whether he knows how Washington works (“I know how Washington works: it doesn’t!“), strikes me as eminently sensible.

Fact is, if we elect Cain and fail to elect a fiscally conservative (Tea Party-like) House and Senate to go with him, we’re not getting anything passed. We’re not getting the Ryan Plan passed. We’re not getting Romney’s 59-point Super-Duper Smart Guy Economic Plan passed. We’re not getting much of anything passed.

So what’s the guy to do? Run for office while assuming that Democrats will take back the House? Or retain the Senate?

Are we to assume that even if we send Jim Demint the “reinforcements” he asked for during Redstate Gathering 2011, and the GOP takes control of the Senate, and even if we strengthen Paul Ryan’s hand in the House by sending him a few extra Tea Party types… even that conservative Congress would not pass the 999 Plan simply because “it isn’t realistic by DC standards”?

It makes absolutely no sense.

The 2012 Election isn’t just about one office; it’s about the nation as a whole. I’m not donating only to Cain. I’m also donating to Ted Cruz in Texas. And looking at some other candidates who I think would be the reinforcements that Demint and Ryan have asked for. We can’t just get Cain/Perry/Romney elected; we have to take over the Senate and increase our advantage in the House as well. We can’t just win the election; we have to actually convince our fellow Americans that we conservatives deserve a turn at bat, having watched Obama/Reid/Pelosi wreck the country.

I operate under the assumption that any plan that any candidate has put forth will require a Republican (and not only Republican, but a conservative Republican) takeover of the Executive and Legislative branches.

So I should get excited about… I don’t know… say a plan like Romney’s that is ‘realistic’?

The answer may lie in his proposal to eliminate the capital gains tax—but only for those who earn less than $200,000 a year. This eviscerates most of the tax cut’s economic impact and also suggests that he’s afraid of Mr. Obama’s class warfare rhetoric. He even picked Mr. Obama’s trademark income threshold for the capital gains cut-off.

Yawn. And oh look, cut the top rate from 33% to 25%. Goodie. And a trade war with China! That’s a bonus. (Look, I’d criticize Perry’s plan too… if he had one. I’d be sure to look it over when he releases something other than, “I done it in Texas y’all”.)

At this point, ladies and gentlemen, doing Obama-Lite doesn’t excite me very much. And for all the talk of “hope ain’t a strategy”… seems to me that not-hoping wasn’t much of a strategy for our side either. All the careful calibration and careful moderation of the Ryan Plan got us precisely zip. All the wisdom of Boehner and McConnell and all the wise guys got us The Most Historic Budget Deal Like EVAH back in the spring, purporting to cut $38.5 billion but actually increasing the budget by $3 billion. I agree with Mark Steyn on such a wisdom-filled deal:

And in this case, it is absolutely not worth the time it takes to type up a bill that merely cuts the equivalent of two hours of government spending. This is why, if this is the best that John Boehner can do, I expect nothing from Harry Reid. But if this is the best John Boehner can do, then I’m sorry, this country is dead. And there’s no question about it, because the political institutions are impervious to course correction.

If we can’t put forth bold plans, because they’re unrealistic by the standards of political institutions that are impervious to course correction, then what the hell are we fighting for? To slow the inevitable decline by a couple of years?

C’mon, man!

But, But, But… The Corruption of Congress!

On the second major criticism, that no matter how idealistic and great the 999 Plan is, it will surely be corrupted by Congress… I have yet to hear from any critic why we should single out the Cain plan for such special treatment.

Romney plans to cut the top rate from 33% to 25%. That’s great!

And how exactly will Congress be prevented from taking that 25% back to 33% and then to 66% using the same logic being applied to Cain’s 999 Plan?

Let’s pretend that Perry has released an actual economic plan. What exactly makes it impervious to Congressional Corruption?

“Well, you see, Romney and Perry will cut spending” doesn’t cut any mustard, given that Cain isn’t exactly a dove on spending. He’s already proposed an across-the-board spending cut, to be followed by a “deep dive” into each department. It’s what a company in financial trouble does; it’s what the man has actually done; it’s what the man proposes to do to the Federal Government.

So the idea that Cain is some sort of a pussywillow when it comes to spending ain’t gonna fly.

“Well, Cain’s plan can’t bind Congress” is a complaint. Here’s streiff on this very topic:

Absent a Constitutional amendment, which Mr. Cain is not advocating, there is no mechanism to prevent the Congress from changing a 2/3 vote requirement to a simple majority vote in some subsequent piece of legislation. (Emphasis mine)

Is that so?

Here’s Cain at the Palmetto Freedom Forum (Sen. DeMint’s effort) back in September:

Cain told DeMint that he favors a legal requirement of balancing the federal budget. “I believe in a balanced budget amendment [to the Constitution]. Yes, because otherwise, we’re not going to have the discipline in Washington in terms of collectively of getting that.

Sure doesn’t sound like the Cain who is not advocating a Constitutional Amendment to me.

In fact, Cain was one of the first Presidential candidates — way back when he was a non-factor dark horse — to sign on to the “Cut, Cap and Balance” Pledge that Sen. DeMint and Lee were asking of candidates.

Now can we agree that may the guy does know something about Congressional Corruption? And that he favors measures to try to stop that? (To be fair, I believe all of the candidates favor some sort of a “Cut, Cap and Balance” mechanism, which includes a Constitutional Amendment.)

Streiff wants the 16th Amendment repealed. Good — so do I. Name one candidate who has signed onto that.

The general fear seems to be that Cain is giving the government a “new revenue stream” to mess with by introducing a national sales tax. I just don’t understand this particular line of reasoning.

Is the idea that liberal democrats are morons who sat around smacking their heads going, “D’oh! A national sales tax! Why didn’t we think of that?” when they heard of Cain’s 999 Plan? Is the notion that a corrupt Congress won’t think to implement a national sales tax or a VAT or a Breathing Air Tax or whatever other corrupt tax scheme until a Republican candidate for President proposes one?

C’mon, man!

It Isn’t Naivete; It’s Marketing

What Mssrs. Streiff and Howe both get wrong — and many of the other critics of Cain’s plan get wrong — is that they are mistaking brilliant marketing for political naivete. Streiff even gives a nod to the marketing here, but dismisses it:

Mr. Cain’s plan has an appeal that some wonkish 57-point plan never will. That it is appealing doesn’t mean it is either workable or a good idea.

Yes, that it is appealing doesn’t make it workable or a good idea. But it does make it an appealing idea. Which is a helluva lot better than the alternatives we have so far. You’re not going to find crowds at Romney rallies chanting “59 Points!” or even understanding what the hell is in his 160-page economic plan. (Although, a Romney rally where the crowd did chant his entire economic plan would be akin to a Buddhist funeral ceremony… hours and hours of chanting….) Perry’s economic plan is easy to understand, and has a built-in slogan… oh wait… he hasn’t released one yet. Nevermind then.

There is a reason why pizza guys and burger guys and retailers and other businessmen who have to deal with consumers come up with prices like $9.99 or slogans like “Tastes Great! Less Filling!” Because they plain old work.

There’s a deeper point to be made here. Cain often says on the stump that his job as President will be to educate and inform the American people, because “If people understand it, they will demand it.”

That’s Marketing 101, folks. Simplicity sells over complexity. Don’t believe me? Check the sales figures for the iPad vs. any of the competing tablet devices — many of which are more powerful, faster, and can do Flash. Check the history of the iPod vs. competing MP3 players. The brilliant engineers at Microsoft built a superior device in the Zune; the brilliant marketers at Apple ate the Zune for lunch without breaking a sweat.

If people understand the benefit and appeal of your product, they will demand it. 999 is simple to understand. It doesn’t take 160 pages to explain it to a bunch of wonks who can then sit around praising it for its moderation, its wisdom, its non-naive understanding of how Washington DC works. No, the 999 Plan takes 30 seconds to understand, by the average voter, and inspires them to demand it.

Is that so wrong? Is that so naive?

If it is, I don’t want to be right. I don’t want to be wise. Give me the wrong naivete of brilliant marketing that might get Americans understanding a candidate’s economic policy without a graduate degree in political science, so that more of them might get around to demanding that policy…

… in November of 2012.

I’ll take that every day of the week, and twice on Saturdays. (Because Sunday is for church and football, y’know?)