During my interview with Steve Forbes on Friday, one thing particularly struck me about his becoming the most high-profile conservative to back Rudy Giuliani for President in ’08: that not only did the former New York mayor not support Forbes in either of his bids for the Republican Presidential nod in 1996 and 2000, but Giuliani also voiced criticism of the issue most identified with the publisher-politician.
“He did not support me for President,” Forbes told me, “and, as a matter of fact, in 1996, he had some critical words on the flat tax.”
But, Forbes quickly added, Giuliani can study an issue and listen closely to an opposing view. As the Forbes Magazine publisher told me, “One of the things that impressed me was that as he examined the issue, he knows [sic] that the current income tax code is a source of corruption which goes against everything he’s worked for in his lifetime. He wants simplification and what impressed him when I talked to him was the idea of giving people choice if we get tax simplification. Hong Kong has a variation of this.
“[In Hong Kong], when we have the new system, you can go with the new system or,if you wish, you can stay with the old system — sort of a benign version of the Alternative Minimum Tax. You pick the best one. He liked that. He thought that would get rid of the hang-ups about ‘you’re going to lose this’ and ‘you’re going to lose that.’”
In Forbes’ view, Giuliani “is the kind of guy who listens and who learns. He’s come a long way on that. But even as mayor, even though he didn’t support me, I could see what he was doing on the tax side. And no other mayor before or since has had that kind of tax record in the city.”
Has he come over to flat tax yet?, I asked Forbes. “He’s over to massive simplification,” Forbes told me, “and he’s very sympathetic to the flat tax idea. I think he just needs to be persuaded it’s politically possible — that if you can do it without having major disruptions in the economy when you make the change. So he’s moving on that. That’s another thing I like: he can look at evidence and make adjustments.
“That’s what you want in a leader,” concluded Forbes about his candidate, “not one who’s weak, but one who can say: ‘here’s what I learned’ and adjust to times and circumstances without losing principle.”