Just as Herman Cain
was "suspending" his presidential campaign, I realized that I
met him years ago, in a still-timely tax debate context.
During an interview
on Fox last week, while praising his Republican opponents, Newt
Gingrich said that as speaker of the U.S. House of
Representatives he'd appointed Cain to the 1995 National
Commission on Economic Growth and Tax Reform, chaired by former
Congressman Jack Kemp.
could I have forgotten the man who broke up the public argument
between Kemp and me on the Taxpayer Protection Pledge!
When the Kemp
Commission, which held hearings around the country, came to
Boston, I testified in favor of tax simplification. I must have
mentioned the "no new taxes" pledge, and to my surprise, Kemp
launched an attack on it. I, of course, counterattacked.
In the middle of
our battle, the commission member I remembered only as black, a
pizza company CEO and very nice, stepped in to say he thought we
were actually agreeing, but looking at the problem in two
The chairman, Cain
explained to us both, wants to consider replacing some existing
taxes with other "new" taxes, and fears that The Pledge wouldn't
allow this flexibility, while I was arguing to prevent an
increase in the total tax burden. Kemp and I made up, and in the
end the commission didn't release much of a plan, so we still
don't have tax reform.
This wasn't Cain's
fault. He was there not as a politician to enact legislation,
but as an entrepreneur wanting to make sure that whatever was
done wouldn't hurt small businesses.
This focus was fine
in 1995 and explains his being knowledgeable about tax issues,
but it's often hard for a businessman to run for office. Mitt
Romney is right that it's important for a president to have some
experience in the private sector, but it's also important for a
presidential candidate to be prepared for the public-sector
So a fond farewell,
Herman Cain, and on to the new battle between Mitt and Newt.
Those pundits who
deplore a long campaign with many debates and allowing
lower-tier candidates to remain in the race seem to have been
So there's no
reason to expect others to "get out of the way" before the New
Hampshire primary. In fact, I wish Gary Johnson could take
Cain's space onstage.
I haven't missed a
debate, including the online-only "faith" forum from Iowa and
Mike Huckabee's Fox debate last weekend on the Constitution. I'm
also getting to know each candidate during Sean Hannity's
hourlong interviews and Parade magazine's cover stories, which
include conversations with the spouses.
I watch the
talking-head discussions on Sunday morning and collect newspaper
clippings about the race. For those readers who have a life, I'd
be happy to share my well-informed opinion about who's the best
Republican in the field — if I had one yet.
Romney has the
public- and private-sector experience with economic issues.
Gingrich hasn't had much experience in the private sector but,
as a historian, has the perspective of understanding what both
the private and public sectors have done to history. I'm still
watching Jon Huntsman — he has more foreign-policy experience,
and I agree with him on social issues more than with the other
candidates as near as I can tell since two of them keep changing
Not that I'm
blaming them, I've changed my mind on some things over the
years, and they have to get through the Republican primary,
though fealty to the religious right doesn't seem to be helping
Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum much. I'm
impressed by Bachmann's knowledge of tax policy and her House
voting record on the deficit, but these three are too socially
conservative for the general electorate, especially the younger
voters we need.
As a libertarian, I
love Ron Paul and am grateful for his bringing opposition to
Federal Reserve policies and crony capitalism into the
presidential debate. But he seems naïve on foreign policy. I
think I'll wait for his better-spoken son, Rand Paul, the U.S.
senator from Kentucky, to run someday, maybe with New Jersey
Gov. Chris Christie!
I was supporting
Romney until I saw his ad deceptively taking Obama's statement —
"If we run on the economy, we lose" — out of the context of
quoting John McCain in '08. I think our former governor is
listening to consultants who are paid entirely too much to be
cute. Just let Mitt be Mitt, even if he looks "too good to be
true," because, from my experience with him, he is kind of
I could be excited
about Newt if I'd just discovered him. I've followed his career
as he reached a position of unexpected leadership in the past
and have a feeling he hadn't really expected to get this far
this time, either.
He certainly wasn't
ready to honestly answer questions about lobbying for Freddie
Mac. I wonder if his interest in making big money reflects the
influence of his wife, who may be the unfortunate equivalent of
Romney's political advisers.
I don't need a
perfect candidate. I just want one who always tells the truth;
then I need him to beat Obama.