August 9 2012
Mitt Romney's Tax Returns: The Prurience Angle
Speaking only for myself and not for my colleagues here at IWF, I must say that it was gratifying this morning to read crusty old Manhattan DA Arthur Branch—I mean former senator Fred Thompson—agreeing with me that Mitt Romney has released quite enough in the way of tax returns, thank you very much.
“Don’t give in to the demagogues,” Thompson urges on National Review Online. If I am not mistaken, Thompson is the first to capture the prurient nature of the Democratic lust for Mitt's tax returns:
An adult watching movies every day during daylight hours would be frowned upon (unless he were a movie critic). A middle-aged man poring over reams of pornographic material would be ostracized (unless he were a judge hearing a case about that subject matter). But a political race allows us, as “concerned citizens,” to consume information about what a candidate did with his lunch money in junior high, as well as whom his wife dated when she was a teenager.
As far as perennial guilty political pleasures go, none has achieved a greater and more predictable status than reviewing the tax return.
Politicians, especially those who have spent their adult life on a government salary, demand that their opponents disgorge their financial records and returns, preferably going back as far as that first suspect lemonade stand. The press invariably joins in the hounding. They demand to know, for example, how much the candidate gave away to charitable organizations. Giving to strangers, you see, rather than giving generously without the advantage of a tax write-off to loved ones in need or other individuals who may need assistance, reveals the size of one’s heart (unless you are Joe Biden).
But, mainly, the demand is made because candidates (rich ones especially) need to demonstrate that they have paid their “fair share” in taxes. What is a “fair share”? Never mind. That’s for the press corps and the opposition to decide. A person could have paid more in taxes than a gymnasium full of his detractors and it still would not be enough if he has made “too much” money in comparison with his tax bill. Also, never mind that, unlike the case of the common criminal, the burden is placed on the candidate to prove his innocence.
A tax return can reveal that a taxpayer (slightly over 50 percent of Americans, nowadays) has followed the law, paid all required taxes, and has done nothing improper or that his worse critics wouldn’t have done. Yet, in skilled hands, that tax return can be used as a hammer with which to beat a candidate over the head.
Even if Mr. Romney were not running against a campaign that already has accused him of being a job-exporting felon who kills the wives of steel workers laid off a mere half decade ago, I (personally) would say, “Stop it with the tax returns, already." We don’t need any more tax returns.
For one thing, most of us have no intention of reading them. We all recognize that tax returns are notoriously complicated. But that won't deter the Obama campaign from going through them and finding all sorts of things to distort.
We want virtuous men and women to represent us, but we don’t need their tax returns to make the call. We’ve elected numerous people to high office without seeing their tax returns. Can you imagine what the Obama campaign could have done with George Washington’s account books for Mount Vernon or the chronically debt-ridden Thomas Jefferson’s finances?
Thompson hits another reason for Romney to sit on the returns:succumbing to Obama campaign pressure would look weak.
I’ve been encouraged by the strong stand he’s taken. I know that others who have his best interest at heart have advised him to succumb, while others have said he must have something to hide. I disagree with both notions.
Based on what I thought was appropriate at the time, I have released my share of tax returns when running for office, and while I might have advised him differently a year ago, now I say go all in. I would not give one inch to an outfit that accuses me of killing a worker’s wife. Tell them to go fly a kite. Tell them that when Obama releases his grades and Harry Reid releases his tax returns you might consider it. Have some fun. Talk about the fragile future of this country and its role in the world, and let Harry and the boys talk about anonymous sources and tax returns.
Mitt may take some flak, but he will, anyway, no matter what he does. This year especially it’s the rich man’s burden. Embrace it and go on. There are bigger problems that a candidate could have. Like having led this country to the brink of second-rate status.
Senator Harry Reid, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Native American senatorial hopeful Elizabeth Warren, by the way, have all called for others to release their tax returns. Yet they steadfastly refuse to release their own. But do we need Reid's, Pelosi's, or Warren's tax returns to form an opinion about them? Sure, reading them might be kinda fun, but let's not encourage tax return porn.