Big Think’s Peter Lawler thought Michele Bachmann won the Republican debate last night in advance of the Iowa straw poll. Other conservative commentators thought Texas Governor Rick Perry, who will announce his candidacy tomorrow, won simply by not being one of the uninspiring candidates on stage. But whoever came out of the debate looking the best, the candidates made one thing clear: none of them would consider raising taxes.
The debate, as Ezra Klein wrote this morning, was not so much about what the right policies would be—for the most part the candidates agreed on what they would do as president—but about “which or the candidates believed in those policies the most.” It was about who was the most sincere in their conservative orthodoxy. And, as Conor Friedersdorf says, the most telling demonstration of their orthodoxy was “when the moderators asked the candidates to raise their hands if they would walk away from a deal that cut ten dollars from the deficit for every one dollar in tax increases. Every last person on stage said they’d reject that deal.”
The Democratic National Committee has already released a melodramatic web video of the episode, accusing the Republican candidates of “pledging allegiance to the Tea Party.” Big Think’s Lawler thinks the Republican candidates were right to raise their hands, on the grounds that “tax increases are never the right thing to do.” I strongly disagree. Paying taxes is painful, but we need to pay for the valuable functions of government—like defense and Medicare—somehow. Taxes are low in the U.S. both by historical standards and compared with the rest of the developed world. I think in any case that it is appropriate for the government to require citizens to contribute to the common welfare rather than depend on purely voluntary contributions. It was appropriate, for example, for the government to raise taxes in the 1940s to levy funds to fight World War II. Cutting the deficit may not be as important as fighting Hitler, but it’s certainly striking that every single Republican candidate for President confesses to believe that refusing to raise taxes is ten times more important that balancing the budget.
UPDATE: Peter Lawler explains in his latest post that I have misunderstood his position. I read him as taking the position that “tax increases are never the right thing to do,” when in fact he was simply trying to summarize Michele Bachmann’s view. My apologies to Peter for getting his position wrong.
Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue