Herman Cain responded to his 9-9-9 plan problem (namely, that it massively redistributes wealth upward) in a speech today. He did it with a couple alterations. First, he eliminated the 9% income tax for individuals making below the poverty line. I thought this was the entire complaint of the 53%ers, that too many Americans don’t pay federal income taxes. I guess Cain’s response would be that they would still have “skin in the game” with the consumption tax. But this has been the rebuttal to the deeply myopic 53% movement all along. People who don’t pay federal income tax already pay state sales taxes and federal gas taxes and excise taxes and a host of others. Now, under Cain, they’ll pay more, and while this may make it so that some poor Americans won’t see their total tax burden go up as much, it doesn’t fully eliminate that, and it does nothing about the enormous tax cuts at the very top. What’s more, 84% of Americans see a tax hike under the Cain plan, and 84% of Americans aren’t below the poverty line – at least not yet. (The oligarchs are trying, don’t rush them!)

The other new wrinkle in the Cain plan is the opportunity zone concept. In certain areas of the country, the 9-9-9 tax would be lower. But that’s conditioned on turning those “opportunity zones” into right-wing paradises that revoke all sorts of worker protections. To qualify for an opportunity zone credit, a community must abolish the minimum wage, institute a voucher system for education, and weaken collective bargaining by establishing “right-to-work” (for less) laws. So if you basically turn your city into a Heritage Foundation pilot program, you get a bit off your taxes.

So it sounds like his plan would be a win-win for corporate America—a dream, in fact. They’d get a huge tax break AND the “opportunity” to play by anti-worker rules unavailable to businesses in other parts of the country.

In other words, it’ll make 9-9-9 seem like child’s play. And it’s bound to be a huge hit with the wingnut Republican base.

Indeed, what Cain has done on taxes and economic policy is similar to what John Edwards did on health care in 2008. He came out of the box first with a comprehensive plan, and it drew his competition entirely to his left. Even though Cain is being savaged for his wealth redistribution scheme, he’s drawing everyone to his right. Rick Perry’s introducing a flat tax. Mitt Romney endorsed a version of the Paul Ryan plan for Medicare vouchers. It’s become follow-the-leader in the Republican Party, and Cain is the leader. Regressive taxes and wealth distribution upward is the order of the day.

Cain’s on less firm ground on abortion. But he’s in the vanguard on taxes.