Some time ago I found myself explaining the value of a flat tax to a liberal.
“You’d be able to fill out your return on a postcard. Put in the amount you earned for the year, write 10 percent of that in the next box, and you’re finished,” I explained. “That would never work,” he said smugly. “Where would you attach the check?”
There’s some logic for you.
Sure, buddy. Let’s keep our tax system, which is so incomprehensible even those who wrote it cannot seem to comply with it (ask Rep. Charlie Rangel). Let’s keep the stacks of forms, the thousands of bureaucrats, the constant intrusions into American’s privacy. Let’s keep all that, because -- while the average middle-class American can never be certain he’s paid the government what he’s supposed to every year -- at least he gets an envelope out of the deal.
That discussion came to mind while reading a recent Thomas Frank op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Frank boldly opposes one of the most controversial ideas of our time: that newspapers ought to hire a conservative or two. “Ordinarily, such a bad idea would not draw much concern,” he tutts. “But it has now been repeated several times in the great organ of journalistic consensus. Clearly they mean it seriously.”
You think? Actually, it seems more likely that the idea is brought up by newspapermen from time to time specifically because they know it will never go anywhere. Sort of like the balanced budget amendment that lawmakers propose periodically: it’s floated so they can seem serious but never need to actually, you know, balance the budget.
Still, Frank’s opposition is a version of the question about attaching the check. “How is the [Washington] Post supposed to check up on its reporters’ politics?” he wonders. “I’m hoping for loyalty oaths and televised hearings, with stiff penalties for employees who refuse to talk or to name names: It would be the perfect spectacle for the end of the newspaper era.”
Cute, but beside the point.
Newspapers wouldn’t have to test for ideological purity, (although if they did, they might find their staffs are made up completely of liberals). Just having one or two people on hand who think the federal government is too large and intrusive could make all the difference in how a potential story is covered.