Playing the anti-Scientology card

MoneyCloseupIn the Sept. 10 edition of The New Republic, Bruce Bartlett complains about the response to his pointing out that Scientologists once led the fight for replacing all income taxes with a national retail sales tax:

In a strange confluence, the Scientologist proposal happens to be nearly identical to one of the trendiest conservative tax proposals of the year, the so-called FairTax, which has been endorsed by John McCain and Fred Thompson, as well as second-tier presidential candidates Mike Huckabee, Tom Tancredo, Duncan Hunter, and Democrat Mike Gravel. Georgians John Lindner and Saxby Chambliss have introduced FairTax legislation in the House and Senate that would establish a 23 percent national sales tax.

But, when you mention any hint of the nexus between Scientology and the NRST -- as I did briefly in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed -- you'll be denounced by FairTax supporters as a smear artist. This retort, however, is simply evidence that these FairTax supporters don't know the history of their own proposal. That's too bad. Perhaps if they understood its origins in Scientology, they might have a greater appreciation for its inherent flaws.

Bartlett makes a vigorous argument against such a sales tax, but his best points are buried: four paragraphs at the end of his essay that argue the case on economic grounds.

"In short, the FairTax is a crackpot scheme from beginning to end. That would be true even if the Scientologists hadn't authored it," Bartlett writes.

Yet Bartlett devotes the bulk of his 1,100-word article to proving the idea's association with Scientology, especially in the early 1990s, when Scientology was battling the Internal Revenue Service on whether the federal government would recognize Scientology as a religion.

I was aware of the battles between the IRS and Scientology because I wrote a roundup news story at the time for Christian Research Journal. I still feel a twinge of excitement at the memory of Heber Jentsch calling me "part of Pat Robertson's cabal" as I attempted to extract his side of the story during a tense telephone interview.

Nevertheless, I fail to see why Scientology's role in advocating this idea is particularly relevant in 2007. It's a handy weapon and an efficient way to dismiss an idea through guilt by association. If a national sales tax is so evidently "a crackpot scheme from beginning to end," why drag Scientology into it, other than the cheap thrill of jeering at Scientologists?

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