Could it be ... Satan?

One of the hazards of being married to a political journalist and living in a small house is that you have to watch or listen to each and every political debate and major policy speech. By my count, we've seen 49 Republican debates in the last few months. Or maybe it seems like there are so many because they are so danged interminable. Each one goes on for hours. The other night there was a debate on economic policy sponsored by Bloomberg TV. Who knew that there was Bloomberg TV?

In any case, the debate was interesting enough for an econ nerd such as myself. But chief moderator Charlie Rose sounded sleepy by the end of the debate. And unlike previous debates where candidates were imploding or getting in good one-liners, this debate did not give much fodder to reporters hungry for a quick story.

So they turned to ... the dark side.

See, one of the candidates is Herman Cain, an American businessman and former chairman of the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. His candidacy has caught on for a variety of reasons, including that he's very likable and has a plan to simplify the tax code. He calls it the 9-9-9 plan (9 percent personal income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax, and a 9 percent national sales tax).

And since Cain is surging in the polls, it was his turn to get nipped at by the other contenders.

I'll let CNN's Dan Gilgoff take it from there in a story headlined "Bachmann implies Cain plan could be devil's work":

A handful of Republican candidates took aim at Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax plan at Tuesday night’s presidential debate, but only one went so far as to imply it could be the devil's work.

“When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside won, the devil is in the details," Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota said during the New Hampshire debate, alluding to the number 666, which is commonly connected to Satan.

Oh is that what she was alluding to? Because her telegraphed and cliched joke line wasn't clear enough as it was ...

The investigative hounds at the Los Angeles Times also thought they picked up a scent of the sulfur. First they mention that Huntsman teased Cain -- who used to run Godfather's Pizza -- that he thought the 9-9-9 plan was about the price of a pizza.

“9-9-9 will pass, and it is not the price of a pizza, because it has been well-studied and well-developed,” said Cain, the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, who is credited with turning around the business when it was failing in the late 1980s. “It starts with, unlike your proposals, throwing out the current tax code. And it will pass, senator, because the American people want it to pass.”

A few minutes later, the topic came up again.

And this time, it was Michele Bachmann’s turn to tease Cain about the slogan. Her jab, however, turned into something less playful.

“9-9-9 is a tax plan, not a jobs plan,” she said, adding that giving Congress another revenue source could be dangerous. “Once you get another new revenue stream,” she said, "you’re never going to get rid of it. When you get the 9-9-9 plan and turn it upside down,” she said, with a sly look at Cain, “the devil’s in the details.”

She was, of course, referring to 666, the number of the Beast in the Book of Revelation.

Well, as far as jokes go (remember, it's political humor), they were both about the same level of cheesiness and cliche. And they were, importantly, both jokes. Really, really bad jokes, but jokes. OK, really bad attempted jokes. I don't know we need to call Bachmann's a dangerous jab or what not.

But I sympathize with non-econ reporters trying to extract anything from this debate, even if this one was a bit of a stretch! By the way, for fans of this genre, you will definitely appreciate CNN's further elucidation of 666's connection to Satan and all that.

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