MANCHESTER, N.H. -- The road to Saint Anselm College is marked with long Burma Shave strands of political placards. The name I see most is Biden. But all the Democratic Party candidates for president will be there. A two-hour debate between candidates starts within an hour.
As I approach the campus I see another kind of sign. It's for an idea, not a candidate. The signs say "FairTax."
That's why I'm here. One of the candidates favors the FairTax. It's the proposal that would abolish the IRS and replace the income, corporate and employment taxes with a single, flat national sales tax.
This is not an idea you hear from Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, Barack Obama or Bill Richardson. They are the conventional candidates to lead the Democratic Party back into the White House.
The FairTax is a major part of the platform of Mike Gravel. He is the darkest horse in the race. He is the Ross Perot of 2008 -- except he is running as a Democrat and CNN paid more attention to Ross Perot than it pays to the former senator from Alaska.
I watch the debate on a large flat-screen TV, sitting high on a gymnasium bleacher bench. Around me, a group of nearly 20 bloggers taps away on glowing laptops. They have been gathered by CNN to post minute-by-minute commentary during the debate. Major Media wants no more Howard Dean surprises. It is already clear that what might be called "legacy media" will suffer some crowding out by YouTube and the broad assault of Web 2.0.
But that's another story.
The debate tells us that the war in Iraq will be ended quickly if the Democrats take the White House. Only the exact schedule varies. It tells us that the Bush tax cuts will expire. It tells us another major change in health care is coming, one that will combine the ubiquity of government management with the compassion of insurance. It tells us that energy companies will be punished for raising the price of gasoline and oppressing a nation of innocent SUV drivers. It tells us that 12 million illegal immigrants face years of uncertainty as Democrats declare that there is no opportunity in America while trying to control the unending flow of those crossing our borders to seek it.
Government spending beyond bushwarspending is virtually unmentioned. True government obligations go completely unmentioned. Social Security and Medicare are barely referenced. The dilemma of our young -- Generation Debt, as one writer calls it -- is mentioned only in relation to education loans.
The debate reminds me of an incident in the Carter era when a newspaper story slug accidentally made it to print.
"More mush from the wimp," the slug (and headline) read.
The darkest horse in the race speaks no mush. Gravel offers a new deal. It is Internet new and Jeffersonian old. It is at once populist and libertarian. The new deal trusts us more and manipulates us less. Here are the main elements:
- A national initiative much like state referendums to allow Americans to bypass Congress and vote on federal issues, sometimes called the "Let the people decide" movement.
- The FairTax, a national sales tax that would eliminate the wretched tax system we now have and replace it with a single national sales tax. The new tax would be supplemented with a rebate to reduce the burden of the tax on lower income households. By taxing consumption, rather than just a portion of income, the FairTax would vastly increase the tax base. It would draw significant new revenue from wealthy people who spend their capital on consumption.
- A Social Security fund invested in a low-cost global index fund, not IOUs, which would work as well for young people as for old people.
- Universal health care vouchers that would guarantee health care to all Americans while putting the choice of how it is received back in the hands of the individuals who receive the care.
These are real ideas, worthy of real debate and offering real change. I'm ready for it. I'm sending Gravel some money. I hope you do too. If we send enough, maybe Wolf Blitzer will give Mike Gravel the time of day.
And that, friends, means we would hear less mush.
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