Obama and Romney Display Their New Clothes

After a frantic day of listening to rival briefings and addressing reporters’ questions on the new tax reform plans unveiled by President Obama and Governor Romney, an old tale stuck in my mind. It was the famous Hans Christian Anderson fable of the emperor and his new clothes. You know the story: A powerful emperor hires two men representing themselves as expert weavers to make him a new and beautiful suit. He then goes to display his new clothing in public. The story concludes:

The emperor marched in the procession under the beautiful canopy, and all who saw him… exclaimed: “Indeed, the emperor’s new suit is incomparable! What a long train he has! How well it fits him!” Nobody wished to let others know he saw nothing, for then he would have been unfit for his office or too stupid. Never emperor’s clothes were more admired.

“But he has nothing on at all,” said a little child at last. “Good heavens! listen to the voice of an innocent child,” said the father, and one whispered to the other what the child had said. “But he has nothing on at all,” cried at last the whole people. That made a deep impression upon the emperor, for it seemed to him that they were right; but he thought to himself, “Now I must bear up to the end.” And the chamberlains walked with still greater dignity, as if they carried the train which did not exist.

That brings us to the new tax plans of Romney and Obama. In one sense, they were very different, as one would expect from two candidates with diverse philosophies and constituencies. Obama addressed corporate tax reform. Romney, who had already proposed to reduce the corporate rate, focused on individual taxes. Obama’s plan was complex and detailed; Romney’s simplistic.

But beneath the deep differences, there were striking similarities. Both men promised a 20 percent marginal tax rate cut – Obama in the corporate income tax rate, Romney in individual income tax rates. Both promised to pay for the rate cuts by closing loopholes. And, although Obama has advanced some proposals to end corporate preferences, both refused to identify fully (or, in Romney’s case at all) the specific measures needed to pay for the rate cuts.

All that is missing is a little child who will point out the obvious.