FairTax zealots bluster and bluff without effect

(Originally published April 26, 2007)

Writing about the dubious aspects of the proposed FairTax, as I did in a recent column, turns out to be a bit like kicking over an ant hill.

As soon as the column was published, FairTax.org zealots swarmed by the hundreds to defend their cause. In fact, many of their responses were downright startling in their similarity. E-mail after e-mail made almost exactly the same points in almost exactly the same language, as if they had been indoctrinated.

The indoctrinator in chief, talk-radio host Neal Boortz, even accused me of lying about the tax proposal. On his Web site he made three specific allegations.

> Clearly, I knew nothing about the Fair Tax because I had cited it as two words, when everyone knows it is one word, FairTax. It is, however, two words in the bill now pending before Congress. More telling, perhaps, the two-word version of “fair tax” is found not once, not twice, but 259 times on Boortz’ own Web site, often on pieces written under his own byline. So by his own standards, Boortz doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

> In the column, I wrote that U.S. Rep. John Linder, the congressional champion of the FairTax, had claimed its adoption would lower prices by as much as 30 percent. “Wrong again, ” wrote Boortz. “That figure is closer to 22 percent.”

Wrong again, Neal. On Linder’s congressional Web site, he states explicitly that adoption of the Fair Tax would, and I quote, “dramatically reduce the costs of goods and services by 20 [percent] to 30 percent.”

> Finally, Boortz claimed I lied when I stated that the Fair Tax would impose a sales tax of 30 percent on retail sales. The actual figure, FairTax’ers claim, is 23 percent.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, decide for yourself. It is accepted by all sides that a retail item that would sell for $100 would cost $130 once the Fair Tax is imposed. Therefore, the accurate sales tax rate is:

A. 23 percent.

B. 30 percent.

If you forgot how to figure out percentages, ask your neighborhood fifth-grader. To most people, the answer comes out B, 30 percent. Only in FairTax land is it A.

The vast majority of e-mail responses also challenged my observation that the FairTax would eliminate corporate income taxes. According to the FairTax doctrine, corporations don’t pay taxes anyway, they just pass those costs onto consumers.

That is welcome news to corporations, who waste a lot of money on tax lawyers, accountants and lobbyists trying to minimize those taxes they don’t pay. It also conflicts with another piece of FairTax doctrine, which claims that by eliminating corporate taxes, we can reverse the trend of U.S. companies fleeing overseas to escape the heavy taxes here — you know, the taxes they don’t pay anyway?

Others took me to task for noting that a special tax reform panel appointed by President Bush had dismissed the FairTax idea as unworkable. They explained that the panel had been stacked against them from the start. In essence, they’re claiming that those darn liberals in the Bush administration wouldn’t give a conservative idea a fair hearing, and if that’s your best argument, well. . . .

In his on-air rants, Boortz apparently challenged me to debate the FairTax. I know that only third-hand, however, because neither he nor any of his “people” has made any effort to contact me. It’s a little reminiscent of grade school, when people would sidle up and whisper, “Hey, So and So says he wants to fight you. What, are you chicken?”

So of course I said yes, I’ll go on the air with Boortz to talk about this. I even gave people my direct phone number, urging them to send it to Boortz.

Yet, no call has come.

It turns out that Boortz refuses to let me discuss this live on his show, in the same forum in which he called me a liar. Instead, he wants an off-air debate in front of a live audience, in which “the audience listens and reacts, ” as he puts it.

What he wants, in other words, is a FairTax campaign rally pitting me on one side against him and a thousand or so of his cheering FairTax zealots on the other side. Well, as the missionary said to the cannibal, “I’m afraid I will decline your invitation to come to dinner.”

That’s too bad. If Boortz had the confidence to go one-on-one without his posse, live on the medium at which he is the master, I would have had some questions for him.

I would have asked, for example, how much money Boortz would save if this tax plan he’s pushing were ever enacted. Given reports of his income, I’d guess the FairTax would save him several hundred thousand dollars money somebody else would pay.

Boortz would then accuse me of class warfare for daring to ask such an impertinent question. In FairTax land, it is not class warfare when Boortz tries to stick other people with his taxes; it’s class warfare when those people complain.

I have to admit, I find Boortz’s refusal to let me on the air rather disappointing. Just last week, in wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, Boortz suggested that if a red-blooded American male like himself had been on campus, the outcome would have been different. Those kids should have rushed the gunman, he said, but instead they went the route of “surrender — comply — adjust, ” what he called “the doctrine of the left.”

Somehow, I figured that a guy who would rush a crazed gunman with a pistol in each hand would at least be brave enough to let a dissenting voice be heard on his radio show.

That part, I did get wrong.

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