Tax-a-Chussetts: Romney’s Growing Tax Return Problem

Posted: August 1, 2012 in Politics
Tags: , , , ,

Normally, I’m not a believer in the following logic that seems to be pressing Romney to release his tax returns: “Well, if you don’t have anything to hide, why not show it?”  I just find that line of reasoning dangerous.  If you’re not committing a crime, why not have Government cameras in your house?  Because there is a certain point at which it’s an invasion of privacy.  So the question is: are the repeated calls for Romney’s tax-returns being made public one of these points?

Consider briefly the birth-certificate imbroglio that weighed down the beginning years of Barack Obama’s presidency (and almost his entire candidacy).  I was vehemently opposed to the rhetoric floating around back then, as in my eyes it was clear that people just could not believe that this man — with an exotic past and dark skin — could be President of the United States.  After all, I had never seen anyone claiming that Bill Clinton was born in Kenya.  No one ever claimed that George W. Bush was born overseas.  To my knowledge, no one has claimed that Mitt Romney was born in Canada.  So why was that question reserved for Mr. Obama?  I think the answer’s obvious, but to suggest it is to open oneself up to attacks of “playing the race card.”

So now the shoe is on the other foot, and people are talking about Romney’s taxes.  I don’t think comparing these two questions as witch-hunts and here’s why: almost every candidate for president — since Mitt Romney’s father released an unprecedented 12-years of returns — has released more than a year of tax returns.  Federal law only requires two years, and so far Romney has only provided one year’s worth, with another planned for October.  Do you see the difference?  Almost every candidate has been asked to release tax returns and has done so; Romney has not.  No candidate had been asked to prove his place of birth; Obama was.

There’s all kinds of speculation about why Romney won’t release his returns.  To be fair, McCain only released two years of returns prior to his candidacy, but nobody at the time was claiming that McCain was hiding millions of dollars overseas or failing to pay any taxes at all.  McCain also didn’t fail to disclose to the Federal government that he had a corporation in Bermuda.  Romney states emphatically that he’s paid what is legally necessary — and only what is legally necessary — and the IRS has audited him, so we should believe him.  To be honest, I don’t disbelieve him.  But the reason Romney doesn’t want this as part of the conversation isn’t because he’s done anything illegal (I don’t think), but because it will bring the realities of tax-policies for people worth hundreds of millions of dollars into the forefront again.

We will begin having the same conversations that both the TEA Party and Occupy Wall Street started — except we’ll be having them in the context of a Presidential election.  The question will be simple: “Do we want a leader who has benefited from years of tax loopholes and off-shore accounts and who has promised to maintain those tax breaks for the wealthy?”  That’s a real conversation to have.  Do we continue the idea of “Trickle Down Economics” or do we reform the tax code so that those who benefit the most from the American system also pay the greatest proportion of taxes?  Either way, this isn’t a discussion that’s going to be going away anytime soon.  As Romney’s numbers fall in key swing states, it might be time for him to bite the bullet.  Better now than in November.

Liz Warren sums up my position, but the American people are entitled to see the tax records and have the conversation:


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