Every politician running for office this year seems to have the "Jarvis Flu." The name of the game in this November election is how much each candidate can promise to cut the voter's taxes.
In New Jersey, Bill Bradley, running for the Senate, is calling for a 25-billion tax cut; and in Minnesota, Robert Short, the Senate hopeful, is promising a 100-billion cut. No one knows where the political tax cut rhetoric will end.
At Finchley For Senate headquarters, I found the candidate sitting behind his desk in his shirt sleeves, looking more like a pork-belly commodity dealer than a man seeking to represent the people of his state.
There was a large blackboard on a raised platform at the end of the room where a volunteer was erasing numbers and writing new ones. Forty people were manning telephones in the other room.
"What's going on?" I asked Finchley.
"We're dealing in tax-cut futures," he said. "We're monitoring what all the candidates around the country are promising the voters in cuts, and when we intend to top them."
One of the people on the phone yelled out, "Bob Short has upped his tax cut promise by $5 billion."
The man at the blackboard erased $100 billion and wrote in $105 billion."
Finchley yelled out, "We'll go $110 billion."
The blackboard-keeper wrote in the figure for Finchley.
"Gluckstern from Ohio has gone to $130 billion."
Finchley shouted, "Make our cut $150 billion."
"You people are spending money like water," I said.
"No, we're not. Those billions are all cuts. We're saving the voter money. Every billion dollars we promise the taxpayer we're going to cut is money in his pocket."
Another volunteer on the phone shouted. "Thyroid in California has just vowed if he is elected he'll cut taxes by $180 billion."
Finchley shouted, "Put us down for $190 billion."
The man at the blackboard was erasing and writing as fast as he could.
"You got a lot of guts, Finchley," I said with admiration. "There aren't many people in this country who would promise the voters a $190-billion tax cut."
"Stick around," he said, stuying the board. "You haven't seen anything yet. This whole election has to do with taxes. The guy who promises to cut them the most has to win."
A volunter on a phone screamed, "An Arizona congressman has told a Rotary club he will cut $200 billion out of the federal budget."
"I'll raise him 25," Finchley called out.
"You sure are cool. I've never seen a politician promise to give the taxpayers a $225 billion rebate."
"You have to be cool in this business," he said as he swallowed a tranquilizer. "When you're dealing in taxcut futures you can't think of it as money. you have to think of it as votes. I'm prepared to match and raise any tax-relief promise made by any politician in this country."
"It seems to me you're trying to corner the tax-cut market. Isn't that illegal?"
"Not under proposition 14. There is no limit on how much you can promise to cut taxes. Don't forget we're dealing in futures. No candidate has to deliver on his promises until after November."
A phone handler yelled out, "A Texas Democrat has just promised the Dallas Garden Club to cut taxes by $240 billion."
Everyone in the room looked at Finchley. He lit a cigarette and said calmly, "Put me down for 250."
We all stood on our chairs and cheered. It was the biggest tax-cut promise made by a candidate in American political history.