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    « Three Myths About Job Creation | Main | REVEALED: Wayne LaPierre and the NRA’s plan to reintroduce polygamy to Texas and Oklahoma »

    Why do Romney’s Tax Returns Matter?


    Nothing is certain but death and taxes.

    We’re all familiar with that little aphorism. Drawn from a letter Benjamin Franklin wrote to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789 (itself derived, most likely, from Daniel Defoe’s Political History of the Devil, penned in 1726), the sardonic phrase draws an emotional response both wistful and painful, reminding us—as if we needed reminding—of what the government needs and takes from us.

    Still, when I notice the brouhaha surrounding the will-he/wont-he conversations about Mitt Romney and his tax returns, I wonder if what Ben really meant was this: Try as we might, we will never get through an election cycle without a battle over tax return revelations.

    I did a quick Google search for the phrase “Mitt Romney Tax Return” and my instant reward was a plethora of links: 744,000 plus or minus. Example headlines included “Mitt Romney’s Tax Return Problem,” and “101 Tax Return Questions Mitt Romney Must Answer Before This PR Nightmare Goes Away for Him.” (The latter, from an awkwardly titled Forbes article, seems telling in the way it’s phrased, sounding rather like a cross between a Disney film and a Cosmopolitan article, something targeted at our curiosity and our propensity to love items, listed.)

    Mitt’s returns are something we’re talking about.  A lot. If we look at recent history, though, it seems we are asking more of Mitt than we have of others.  I’ve heard calls for his campaign to release twelve years of returns, the number apparently anchored by the mistaken belief that his father, George Romney, released exactly that much information back when he announced his presidential candidacy in November of 1967. Still, even if it were true that Mitt’s dad had released that much info, why use that as an anchor for Mitt’s supposed responsibilities? Why not use the last GOP candidate, John McCain, as a reference point instead?  McCain himself wondered about that in a recent appearance on Piers Morgan’s show, when he told us that he had only released two years of returns. And, he pointed out, John Kerry never released any of his wife’s returns, she of the Heinz fortune.

    I’ve heard a number of justifications for why we should dig further into Mitt’s numbers. Mitt has offshore accounts and tax havens, blind trusts and capital gains advantages.  He’s made a ton of money, more in a single year than many of us will make in a lifetime. He’s no member of mainstream America, that’s for sure, and the Vegas money would likely lay odds that he (or his accountants) took advantage of every loophole out there in an effort to do what—let’s admit it—we all want to do, and that’s reduce our tax burden to the single lowest possible (legal) number we can get away with it.[1]

    But ask yourself these very basic questions: If Romney were to release more information, is there any pundit on the left or right that wouldn’t line up to either condemn or defend Romney exactly as you would expect? More importantly, if you’ve already formed an opinion about Mitt Romney and his financial history, can you honestly say that releasing more information is going to change your mind?  If not, what difference does it really make?

    Perhaps this is the difference it makes: It keeps us from talking about other things.  As it is with nearly all political conversation, true power resides in controlling the narrative—what we, the public, talk about, think about, and argue about.  For now the Democratic machinery has successfully managed to wrest that control away from others who would rather focus the conversations elsewhere. Like a schoolyard victim that has finally learned the bully’s techniques, the Democratic machinery, led by the DNC, continues to pound the issue, most recently in an ad that accuses Romney of “dancing around” the controversy.[2]

    The Democrats, I’m convinced, know that this race is going to be tight, and that President Obama is vulnerable—despite some achievements—on economic issues, on health care, and on financial reforms, topics that have angered the opposition and frustrated his base. So by using the narrative equivalent of a magician’s misdirection, they have managed to keep us talking about what is essentially a settled issue: our opinions of Mitt Romney and whether or not he’s an out-of-touch, loophole-loving rich guy. 

    But I ask you to think about a few other questions instead. What would President Romney do in Syria? How would President Romney respond to Michele Bachmann’s outrageous accusations regarding Huma Abedin? What would President Romney propose as an energy policy? Or an education policy? How would he react, as Commander in Chief, to another Rwanda or Kosovo? What would he do, specifically, regarding the Federal Reserve, or the continued riskiness of our banking practices?

    These are things I’d like to know, things I’d like to talk about.  I believe, too, that you may very well share my curiosity. I hope we have that chance before Election Day. But time seems to be running out, and we’re all very, very busy with other things. There are those 101 Tax Return Questions to review, along with today’s crop of 1,130 new articles about Mitt’s little tax controversy…


    [1] Come to think of it, maybe Mitt is just like you and me!

    [2] The ad is actually a brilliant two-fer; it also ties in the Ann Romney/dressage story.



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    Reader Comments (8)

    I think a large part of the issue is that Romney will not give any answers on all those questions which you rightly point out as important. Since no one will give him flak for this (the Obama campaign's ad with him singing instead of answering questions aside, since it was tied into this issue) it is hard to attack him on substance--he hasn't been willing to show any, treating the Presidential campaign like a Supreme Court nomination hearing, where the less one answers, the better.

    July 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterS W

    Good point, Mr. Spot. It is probably within Romney's power to (at least partially) shift the conversation, but, as with many other things, he has sadly shown himself to be rather wishy-washy (though another possibility is that every time he says something, the Dems are quick to find an older tape showing him saying the opposite). The man, though I think he's qualified, has a likeability and credibility problem.

    July 25, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Ah no! It is not just a diversionary tactic. This man want to be judged on his business acumen and loyalty to this country. The tax returns will either verify his honesty and allegiance to the US or revel his lies. And if you can't trust him on those issues, we can't trust him on whatever he pledges. NIce try though!

    July 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTeese Powell

    This could all be a mute point with proper tax reform. The reason people care is in our hearts we know the system is rigged. Lawrence Lessig outlined why both parties want a complex tax code on Jon Stewart in this video

    With The Transaction Tax we could lower the tax rate to a fraction of 1%, run the current budget without a deficit, and eliminate a major corrupting influence, e.g. lobbying for special tax treatment. Since everyone pays the same rate, on every transaction in the economy we don't need to see anyone's tax return, because there wouldn't be any.

    Movement of money is automatically taxed.

    It also replaces all (not just Income) Federal Taxes.

    Politicians won't propose it, so the people need to demand it.

    This current situation is really just a diversion, and even though I don't have anything to hide, I think one's finances should be private.

    July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJust a Citizen

    I really think that you should not even mention his name or party. Let us all just ignore them, and speak of the Bright Side Of Life, and the good that President Obama has done.

    July 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjohn schwarzenbach

    Teese: I guess my question would be this: aren't there better conversations to have about his business acumen and loyalty than his tax returns? The issue for me with the returns is that a) many people make an unfounded assumption that privacy=something to hide, and b) that it won't actually end the controversy, but just stir it up even more. I think we should just move on and talk about pinning him down to what, specifically, his business acumen will buy us, if anything....

    July 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    I want to see his return from 2009 to see if he took advantage of the IRS amnesty from criminal prosecution for anyone declaring their Swiss accounts and paying taxes on their 2009 return.

    Romney’s 2010 tax return showed millions in Swiss bank accounts, so it's reasonable he had those accounts in 2009 and before.

    Bottom line I don't want a crook who steals from me as my president.

    July 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurious

    I agree with Curious. I'd like to see a little further back, because I suspect there are some issues Mr. Romney doesn't want the public to see.

    But your premise is correct - I would much prefer to know how Mr. Romney intends to handle the issues confronting our country, both foreign and domestic. My biggest problem with him is that he never takes a strong policy stand on the important issues. When asked how he would deal with immigration reform, he says he would work with Congress to make laws. A little more specific detail would be much appreciated.

    Also, I'd like to challenge the assertion that being a good businessperson makes one a good President (or other government official). Business and Government have very little in common, as anyone who has run a unit of government can tell you. The skill set that helps you maximize profits is MUCH different than the skill set that makes you a good public servant.

    And that's not even addressing whether or not you believe that Romney's work at Bain can be proof of being a "good businessman." I'm not sure that what he did at Bain is the same as running a business that provides a product or service, or meets a need, and highly doubt that he would be able to be a good, or even adequate, President.

    August 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDee_Lemon

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