John McCain isn't just going to spend the next eighteen days drifting around the swing states like a mall walker. (Didn't David Lynch make a movie about a real old guy riding a tractor across America to get away from Sissy Spacek? I think it's on my "Movies I Never Want to See" list. Where is that list? It's around here somewhere.)
John McCain isn't interested in second place. Can you imagine the living nightmare that would be the rest of his life if he does all the disgraceful things he's done and then loses, too? If you can't imagine it, he can.
There's a John O'Hara story where an old bore, after a long and perfectly nice life, screws it all up by flirting with a teenager and then walking in on her in the shower. She shrieks at him and he retreats to his room. Here's how it ends:
"He knew it would be hours before he would begin to hate himself. For a while he would just sit there and plan his own terror."
That's not going to happen to John McCain.
I think John McCain has one more trick up his sleeve. (One last hand from the grave? Some metaphor about shock and clutching.) I think John McCain is planning our terror. I think John McCain is going to pitch the Flat Tax.
Dangerous? Erratic? Crazy? You mean, as opposed to Vice President Miss Wasilla?
There are two ominous reasons John McCain might go for it.
Joe the Plumber
When it comes right down to it, what Joe the Plumber hates is the very idea of progressive taxation, whether he pays his or not. J the P knows his taxes won't go up under President Obama; it's the principle that rankles.
What if Obama gets elected, repeals the Bush tax cuts, and then Joe wins the lottery? If Joe has to pay 39% off the top of his winnings instead of 36%, why bother buying a ticket?
Why should a millionaire pay more taxes than a hobo? It's just doesn't make sense.
Those poor rich.
The flat tax has a powerful allure for people who think Rush Limbaugh works harder than they do, and a girl deserves a few nice things.
John McCain needs those votes.
Jack the Knucklehead
Last week, Jack Kemp co-authored a piece in the Wall Street Journal. He had a solution to the banking crisis: The Flat Tax. This wasn't surprising. Jack Kemp always thinks the solution is the Flat Tax. That's why no one talks to Jack Kemp.
Because he's a pull-toy, and when you tug his string, this comes out:
"And such a tax reform would be an antidote to the class warfare, neocollectivist tax policies of Barack Obama. If implemented, it would also jump-start the economy. Under this optional tax system, savings would increase and investment would soar as capital around the world is drawn to a suddenly more confident U.S. economy.
This new surge of capital would end the credit crunch, and allow old businesses to expand and new ones to start. Wages would grow, along with the overall economy. And as the world invested in America, the dollar would strengthen, as happened in response to the tax cuts that generated the 1980s Reagan boom. This would ease inflationary fears and pressures on the Fed."
It also regrows hair, makes old vinyl upholstery shine like new and brings dead pets back to life. (Only they're evil.)
Of course, that's all crazy talk. The Flat Tax won't do any of those things, any more than eliminating all taxes on people whose names begin with the letters A through K. (Think about it. They'd have more to spend. And that makes jobs. And then Reagan comes back to life. Only he's evil.)
Still, isn't it pretty to think so?
The Flat Tax, stupid in the best of times, would be really, really, really stupid now.
America has added about a trillion bucks to the national debt in the last three weeks. If we announced that our next step was to slash tax revenues the dollar would collapse and we'd turn into Zimbabwe, only with less interesting large predators.
But what the hell. It wouldn't be John McCain's problem. I'm sure Cindy has gold. And he'd never get it though a Democratic house and senate.
It would be a great election promise, though, don't you think? A game changer? Really shake things up?
Wouldn't it be a maverick thing to do?
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