Virtually every political observer following the presidential race put enormous import on the upcoming debates. (“Debates are Romney’s last stand,” reads a typical piece.)
That may seem like a silly way to decide who leads the free world, especially when both candidates have spent months, even years, articulating their positions on matters of national importance. Maybe for some elections, that’s true—but Mitt Romney has assiduously avoided taking stands on various important issues, so the debates present a minefield for the Republican candidate. If the moderators aggressively press him to define a particular policy position on the fly, and he chooses his evasive words poorly, he may suddenly find himself in a huge mess.
Such is the lesson Democrat Tim Kaine presented today in a debate with Republican George Allen in the Virginia Senate race, committing what Dave Weigel called “One of the most obvious unforced errors I’ve ever seen.”
Debate moderator David Gregory tossed what should have been a softball question to Kaine about Romney’s derision towards the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes. But it turned out to be a change-up pitch, as Gregory repeatedly pressed Kaine to say whether everyone should pay federal income taxes—and Kaine, shockingly, was open to the idea:
GREGORY: Do you believe that everyone in Virginia should pay something in federal income tax?
KAINE: Well, everyone pays taxes! I mean, the statistics that have come out..
GREGORY: I’m asking about federal income taxes.
KAINE: I would be open to a proposal that would have some minimum tax level for everyone, but I do insist, many of the 47 percent that Governor Romney was going after pay a higher percentage of their income in taxes than he does.
Openness towards taxing that 47 percent is a deeply foolish position to take. (Evidence: the only one I’m aware of who has even come close is Michele Bachmann). As just about every Democratic politician and liberal commentator has spent the week proclaiming, most of that 47 percent are justifiably unable to pay income taxes because they don’t make enough money—that’s exactly why Romney is perceived as cruel for those remarks.