Twenty-Three Percent for Nothing


Tim Russert took a breather from making middle-aged men cry to moderate a debate between Florida's U.S. Senate candidates, incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Katherine Harris. (In the interest of balance, this is illustrated by a hideous photo of Nelson.) Because the race isn't even close – polls put Nelson 20-25 points ahead – Russert opted to spend a huge chunk of the hour grilling Harris on her support of a national 23 percent sales tax. (The Orlando Sentinel mistakenly labels this "the flat tax," but it's obviously the "fair tax" boosted by Neal Boortz.)

The resulting exchange was a calvalcade of chuckles, not least because Russert repeatedly mangled the facts of the fair tax and said "it taxes 23 cents on everything you buy." It'd be amusingly to watch the government run out of tax revenue 45 minutes into the fiscal year, but neither candidate seemed to notice Russert's flub. Harris, who looked (surprise!) incoherent and dizzy during most of the debate, actually showed signs of life defending the national sales tax. She simply rattled off the names of taxes that would (hypothetically) be swept aside by a sales tax; the hostile audience actually laughed with her. Nelson came back with a murky attack on the sales tax idea, citing mysterious "experts" who determined the whole crazy idea was, in fact, crazy. Prodded by Russert, the candidates argued tax reform for a solid five minutes, with Harris's defense of radical reform sounding surprisingly palatable. It was like a snapshot from an alternate universe where campaigns don't consist of non-stop meaningless jackassery.

(Headline explainer here.)