Why Mitt's tax returns matter

I posted this to Twitter:






I then had a rather civil exchange with another Tweeter who questioned why it mattered whether presidential candidates released their tax returns or not. We left it amicably at agreeing to disagree. (Would that all Twitter exchanged were so pleasant with political opponents. I'd have fewer blocked accounts.) However, the exchange did prompt me to consider just why Mitt Romney not following a precedent adhered to by his father and every other candidate for the past 40 years was, to paraphrase Joe Biden, a BFD.

As I argued in my previous piece, those who back Romney have a visceral disdain for the rest of us who are not in their income bracket; this includes the GOP rank and file whom they've beguiled into believing their boilerplate of stolid self-sufficiency—a self-sufficiency they wish to impose on the rest of us while they bask in corporate and personal tax giveaways to the detriment of a civilized society.

And as this reportage from yesterday's Hamptons fundraiser for Romney, they're no longer hiding that disdain behind a polite face. We don't "understand how things work", that we depend on those who "drive the economic engine" for anything that we can call our own, and that if Obama is re-elected he will unleash a socialist tide upon the country that will drive the job-creators to overseas paradises. We are nothing other than commoners, and should gratefully curl our forelocks at our betters.

This sense of entitlement with no societal restraint is part of the reason that Mitt's refusal to release his tax returns to the public—when he did provide them to John McCain as part of the vice presidential vetting process—matters. When rightists claim that President Obama is the least transparent person to every occupy the White House, they are merely projecting their own candidate's sin onto the scapegoat. Romney does no interviews save with Fox News or friendly talk radio programs; he holds no press conferences; and he refuses to disclose tax returns, something that has been common practice in presidential politics for decades. For Romney, rules are for everyone else. His attitude towards his tax filings reflects this: just because other candidates have released their returns, that means nothing to him; he is not beholden to political tradition, to the niceties which bind us as a society. He sees the Presidency as his personal plaything, as his by God-given right. He says he worries about the "poor and the middle-class that are finding it hard to make a bright future for themselves." Nothing in his actions betray that concern as a legitimate, driving force. From embracing the Ryan budget to vowing to repeal ACA with nothing to replace it, his actions show that he cares not a bit for the concerns of the "poor and middle class".

But the desperate fury with which Romney surrogates have hit back at the tax question—very ineffectively—is due to the increasing pressure the Obama campaign is focusing on the issue. It's gone from a matter of "process", to a question of "what is Romney hiding". As this exchange between Robert Gibbs and Dan Senor shows, the Obama campaign is raising the question that the reason that Romney is withholding his tax returns is because of what he doesn't want the American people to know. Why does he have so much of his money in tax havens like the Cayman Islands and Switzerland? Going back to the fact of him showing the McCain campaign his tax returns for 23 years, what was in those documents that made that campaign shake its head and take a risk on the half-term governor of Alaska? Romney could have easily put out the fire by doing what every other presidential candidate has done for decades and release his returns. The fact that he hasn't rightly raises the question in people's minds as to what is in those returns that could be seen as being damning. As this post on Democratic Underground asks, does the Obama campaign have dirt on the Romney financials, and is just playing a game of torture with the Romney campaign? Obama and his team do nothing by happenstance; every attack is planned out way in advance. And the methodical way in which they've ratcheted up the pressure, to the disarray of the GOP, indicates that there is indeed some sort of fire causing the smoke. The past weekend on the network interview shows was a massive, coordinated attack on Romney's offshore accounts, which has occasioned an increasingly shrill response from the Republicans.

This second point is why Romney's tax returns matter: we have someone running for President who, rather than investing his money in making the US work, has instead squirreled it away in offshore accounts. And there is more than a fair question as to whether those tax returns show that he's avoided paying tax on that wealth by doing so. We may have someone running for President who wants to be in charge of the US tax apparatus, who has himself worked to avoid paying those taxes. He wants to apply rules to us that he himself may have flouted. John McCain saw his returns, and chose Sarah Palin.

What could be contained in those documents that made McCain choose someone even more woefully unprepared for high office? That's a question to which we all deserve an answer.


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