If U.S. presidential campaigns excel at anything, it's to verify the truth of the statement that some things are better left unsaid.
Inevitably, after jawing away all day for months on end, our party nominees -- the pick of the litter -- utter words that belong in a basket of regrettables. Usually it's because they lower their guard and say what they truly believe before an audience of true believers. When those words get out, they don't quite reflect the inclusive message candidates want to promote, and there's trouble. That's why Mitt Romney's 47% comment sent his 2012 campaign into a tailspin, and Hillary Clinton's "basket of deplorables" was hurled back at her.
I like to imagine the candidates flogging themselves for their stupidity the way Chris Farley did in his SNL interviews: "IDIOT!!"
A different kind of "regrettable" was Donald Trump's remark about taxes. "That means I'm smart," he said during Monday night's debate, in response to Clinton's claims he hasn't paid them. Exhibiting regret is not Trump's style, but he surely knows it wasn't a smart thing to say before an audience of 84 million, most of whom can't afford not to pay them. (At least he didn't say "taxes are for little people" like the late Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley.)
The press jumped on it. "Undecided voters in N.C. gasped" at the remark, one headline read. On Twitter, Clinton supporter and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, a guy with a huge bank account and a fleet of accountants, voiced his support for paying one's fair share. After acknowledging that he always urges his tax lawyers to take advantage of the laws, he said, "You can't just take, take, take."
Trump's supporters, meanwhile, saw it as another example of their guy telling it like it is.
You know, I kinda agree with all of them.
After all, who can blame a guy for not wanting to pay taxes, and saying that if he had, the money would have been squandered? Everybody and their mother has, at some point, felt they didn't want to support X, Y or Z that the government in its infinite wisdom was funding. I could trot out examples but it would be too depressing.
So I can relate to Trump's comment, and would argue anyone who says they can't is posturing. But I agree with Cuban, too, that you can't just take, take, take. Our company pays about half of what we make in taxes; we may not like it, but we accept it. There are things we need as a community and paying taxes is how we get them. Clearly, though, taxes are a drain on the economy: If we paid less, we could invest more.
I also agree with the undecided voters who gasped at Trump's remark, because you just don't say that unless you're in a room with trusted cronies. It's not good optics, as they say inside the Beltway.
And inside the Beltway is where the real problem lies, as everybody and their mother knows. Our political system has been structured of, by and for people and companies who can afford the best legal counsel. Laws are written with loopholes tailor-made for the legislators and their cronies. Everybody is paying off somebody, and it's all paid for by our taxes. Of course people are going to think it's smart to hold onto that money instead. But they'd also be smart to keep that thought to themselves while they're running for president.
We have another five and a half weeks of this political travesty, and we'll probably hear more regrettable comments before it's over. Unfortunately, neither candidate is likely to slap him- or herself upside the head because of their gaffes, like Chris Farley used to do.
Now that would be something to see.