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Can a Flat-Taxer Find Success As a Moralist?

Mar 29, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 27 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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There is cause for concern. In person, Forbes is far more animated than his robotic caricature. He blinks. He modulates the pitch and volume of his voice. (His staff concedes that Forbes finally took Michael Deaver's advice and spent some time with a speech coach.) He even chuckles from time to time. The problem is that except when he talks about baseball statistics or mystery novels, Forbes never seems very excited. After a while you might come to the conclusion that he's more excited about baseball statistics and mystery novels than he is about politics. Accurate or not, this is not an impression an aspiring presidential candidate wants to leave with audiences in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Forbes may never be an inspiring speaker or thrilling flesh-presser, but his campaign staff is betting he won't have to be. Forbes plans to take his message outside the shopping malls and Rotary Clubs of the primary states and onto the Internet., the campaign's official Web site, is huge, sophisticated, and packed with better-than-real-life photos of Steve Forbes. Campaign strategists immodestly predict that the Web site will become "the of the presidential race," that it will bring together "the largest grass-roots organization in the history of representative democracy." Plus, boasts one of the technicians who designed it, the site has "way cool interfaces."

Way cool or not, does have some interesting features. Visitors to the site are asked to become "on-line volunteers," and are then hit up for the e-mail addresses of their friends -- each of whom in turn receives a pitch letter from the Forbes campaign. Volunteers who sign up numerous friends receive recognition as cyber ward-heelers for voting blocs ranging in size from e-precincts to e-cities and e-regions. Those who recruit with particular vigor win prizes and become members of the "e-National Committee." The firm that designed the site, Hensley Segal Rentschler of Cincinnati, has promised the campaign at least 500,000 on-line volunteers by the end of the primary season.

It's hard to know how many volunteers the site will produce, though it will certainly provide entertainment for bored white-collar workers. The campaign plans to add games to the site, each with a trademark twist: A flat-tax game, for instance. Or a Sisyphean Beltway Establishment game, where the more players win, the less they are allowed to keep.

The best feature of all, though, is certain to be the "news" coverage. The Forbes campaign plans to hire a full-time reporter and photographer to cover the candidate's activities on the campaign trail. Dispatches will be posted regularly to the Web site, along with photos of Forbes in action -- kissing babies, talking taxes with farmers, displaying his knowledge of retail food prices at supermarkets. "We plan to build our own propriety news agency on-line," says one Forbes staffer excitedly. "Like CNN and MSNBC." Except much, much more amusing.

Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD.