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CNN must be desperate for the ratings the network receives whenever it hosts a Republican presidential debate. As moderator of the Tea Party Debate in Tampa, Fla., last month, Wolf Blitzer worked it. And not once did leftist activist-cum-anchor Anderson Cooper mention bullying in Las Vegas Tuesday night: Viewers of the Western Republican Debate got off lightly. The excuse for a newsman known as Anderson Cooper did only one stupid thing: Demonstrate to the seven presidential contenders how to introduce themselves.

CNN was on its best behavior, which is more than one can say about Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He sounds a lot like a slightly less stupid “W,” which is still plenty stupid (and cunning to boot). The man is so much like The Decider in demeanor that it’s unsettling.

In bashing Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax-reform plan, Perry persistently called Cain “brother” (“I love you, brother, but …”). This phony, patronizing touch was plainly insulting.

For colorful metaphors that capture the tapped arteries of taxation in the Cain plan – destined to balloon with the lifeblood of the taxpayer – it’s hard to beat Grover Norquist. The president of Americans for Tax Reform likened 9-9-9 to putting “tapeworms in your tummy to try and maintain your weight.” And to “having three needles in your arm drawing blood instead of one.”

However, it was Rep. Michele Bachmann, in Hanover, N.H., who set the standard. About candidate Cain’s intention to give Congress a revenue stream it currently doesn’t have – the authority to levy a national sales tax – Rep. Bachmann quipped: “When you take the 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside down [666], the devil’s in the details.”

In Las Vegas, the congresswoman further assailed 9-9-9 as a scheme that would invariably result in a value-added tax. Profits would be taxed “at every step and stage of production.” Vendors will have to pass on the tax to the consumer. As is their wont, the American people will then blame the vendor or the producer, instead of “the government that created the tax.”

Fleetingly lucid, Perry chimed in: New Hampshire doesn’t have a sales tax, and you, Mr. Cain, are “fixing to give them one.”

Unfortunately, the immensely likable Herman Cain was poorly prepared. His comeback to the criticism was to direct the perplexed to hermancain.com. Mr. Cain also impugned the motives of the plan’s critics, all, allegedly, “lobbyists, accountants, politicians,” who “don’t want to throw out the current tax code … and want to continue to … manipulate the American people with a 10-million-word mess.”

One cannot properly undermine a claim by undermining the motives or character of its claimant. That’s a variant of the ad hominem fallacy.

The same holds for the charges of hypocrisy Perry leveled at Mitt Romney for employing illegal workers. Such accusations add up to an ad hominem fallacy; Perry’s rabid personal attack did nothing to shake Romney’s position on illegal immigration (as unclear as that may be).

Whatever one says about Romney, one thing is indisputable: The man is refined, patrician. He happens to be extremely bright too and could have easily mocked Perry for his verbal malapropism in Tampa, Fla. “Nice try” is all the mild-mannered Romney mustered.

Polite, but also as quick as a flash, Romney exposed Newt Gingrich’s one-time support for the individual mandate in health care, in the course of the Las Vegas debate.

Aptly, Alan Schroeder of the HuffPo juxtaposed the former governor of Massachusetts with the current governor of Texas thus:

“Romney the debater is crisp, businesslike, in command of his material, and as bloodlessly efficient as a German luxury sedan. Perry the debater is sloppy, sentimental, uncertain of his facts. …”

Indeed, Perry’s Bush-like lack of cerebral agility was on display, when the Texan voluntarily steered his rival, Romney, into the topic of immigration. Why do so given your own spotty record? Romney’s devastating rejoinder: Perry’s Texas has had a 60 percent increase in illegal immigration, some of it attributable to Perry-generated incentives.

When all is said and done – when the poses struck by the candidates fade from memory – it is Texas Rep. Ron Paul whose words, not always articulate, still endure. Cleaving to timeless truths has carried the awkward Paul this far.

Congressman Paul called the Cain plan dangerous. “A lot of people aren’t paying any taxes, and I like that. I don’t think that we should even things up by raising taxes. So it is a regressive tax. So it’s very, very dangerous.”

Said Paul: “Spending is a tax. As soon as the governments spend money, eventually it’s a tax. Sometimes we put a direct tax on the people. Sometimes we borrow the money. And sometimes we print the money. … Today, the wholesale price index went up 7 percent. Prices are going up 9 and 10 percent. So that is the tax. … spending is the tax.”

In the future, Ron Paul might wish to explain to his increasingly receptive audience that the solution to the debt is not to seize private property (through taxes) and place it in communal ownership (state bureaucracies), where resources are never allocated efficiently and are always squandered.

Money stuffed down the maw of the Federal Frankenstein won’t go to pay down the debt. Funds extracted from us by the feds are fungible. Any additional revenues the feds receive via taxes they will use to plunge private property owners deeper into debt.

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