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Monster tax defies effort to slay it

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Terrible Tax runs on, and no champion of the people still stands to stop it.

Did anybody notice Mike Huckabee dropping his hopeless race for president when John McCain sewed up all the delegates needed for the Republican nomination•

The irony is that Huckabee had the better issue, made to order for this season. Kitchen tables and computer desks all over the land are littered with papers. Americans are doing their income tax. And hating it, of course. What a mood of tax reform for a politician to seize upon.

But Huckabee, an ex-governor of Arkansas, got no traction with his promise to slay the monster. He never brought genuine passion to the pledge. He had the words but not the music. Such at least was the impression that came through the news media -- ho hum, more political fluff.

A true tax reformer would have started every speech banging a fist on his lectern. ''Folks, first day I'm in the White House a bill goes to Congress to kill the income tax! Just kill it. Kill every loophole. Every sneaky preference for a special interest. Every sweep through a family's private life for every crumb of wages, or of interest earned by your thrift, to split with that wasteful government in Washington.''

''But Mike,'' an audience member might fairly challenge, ''how will you replace the revenue the income tax brings in?''

''Glad you asked! From a national sales tax -- call it the Fair Tax,'' a standup guy would answer without fudging.

''Retailers would pass it on to Washington from what you'd be paying in prices -- higher prices no doubt, but only at first. Because in every price even now, right this minute, there are huge imbedded income tax costs from raw materials producers, manufacturers and distributors. Plus billions and billions of hours wasted up and down the economy in tax preparation, accounting and lawyering, auditing and lobbying. That'd all be out of selling prices. And we'd be rid of the IRS!''

But poof, that dream has passed. The same as it did four or five elections ago when a candidate stood for, and died with, a ''flat'' income tax. Simplicity! One bracket for all. A Form 1040 that could fit on a post card. (True, far-distant Republican Ron Paul still honorably shoots at the income tax.)

Something about the Terrible Tax seems unkillable, though. In 2013 Americans will shake their heads at its 100th birthday, that a free people should bear it so long.

Even McCain falls into the tax-tinkering trap. He'd like to head off socialized medicine, if that worthy goal is still possible. Rely on free markets to fund health care, he says. So for the first $5,000 of family health spending in a given year, what does he propose• A tax exemption. Somewhere the Terrible Tax is smiling.

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