Editorial: Mitt Romney and His Tax Returns

Ed. note: I wrote this editorial back in early August while I was an intern at The Arlington Sun. Since tonight is the first Presidential debate, it seems as good a time as any to upload the magnum opus of my journalism career thus far. Yes, the Harry Reid stuff is now dated, but Mitt Romney still has not addressed the tax return issue, which makes this editorial more topical now than it should be.

For those that follow politics with any regularity, you probably know that the Obama campaign has engaged on a sustained attack on Mitt Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns before 2010. By refusing to release the tax returns and sidestepping answers of refusing, Romney invites speculation of what exactly he is “hiding.”

Romney’s non-response is odd, considering he has essentially been campaigning for the 2012 Republican nomination (and, of course, the Presidency) since he conceded the 2008 nomination to John McCain. Even this year, this is not the first time he has faced questions about his financial transparency.

The questions started in the Republican primary. Romney apparently felt enough pressure then to release his full 2010 return and a partial 2011 one. In 2010, Romney paid just a 13.9 percent rate. Most of his income that year was generated by capital gains on his investments, which is taxed at a lower rate than working income. When Romney released those returns in January, he told the people, “”I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more.” (ABCNews.com; published January 24, 2012)

Since winning the Republican nomination, Romney has refused calls from the Obama campaign to release more tax returns. This has allowed the Obama campaign to gain traction with insinuations that Romney has something to hide. But they never outright speculated exactly what it is that he is hiding.

Leave it to Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, to up the ante.

Last week, citing one unnamed source allegedly close to Romney during Romney’s time at Bain Capital, the diminutive Reid once again showed that he is willing to engage. He told reporters that Romney had not paid any taxes for 10 years. Zero percent.

Immediately, Reid was pounced upon, both by Republicans like RNC chairman Reince Priebus, who called Reid a “dirty liar,” and liberal icons like Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who declared Reid to be “really, really terrible.”

It is true that, in the moral universe, Reid’s unsubstantiated claim perhaps crosses the line. But as much as we don’t like it, politics is a cutthroat game that often disregards morals. Despite our complaints about negative campaigning, there is a reason negativity is the dominant strategy in national campaigns and even state campaigns: it works.

There is a reason why both “Swift Boat” (2004) and “Willie Horton” (1988) have entered the political lexicon. Both played a major hand in destroying the challengers’ character and helping their preferred candidates into the White House (who, it should be noted, were both Republicans) despite both tactics being more morally repugnant than Reid’s tax assertion.

Feel free to agree with Priebus’ assertion that Reid is a “dirty liar” and/or Stewart’s description of Reid as “really, really terrible.” Heck, create your own negative terms describing Reid and his claims regarding Romney’s returns. Or you can recognize Reid’s attack for what it is: a calculated move that could pay off big.

For Reid, there is little risk. By doubling down on his accusation, Reid shows he is more immune to pressure than most, if not all, of his fellow politicians. Sure, he may be risking his credibility, but considering he is not up for reelection until 2016 (and he may well retire instead, considering he’s 72 right now), he has ample time to deal with any fallout that may result.

Or it may turn out exactly as Reid planned, and ratchet up the public pressure even further on Romney. With every day that passes without Romney releasing his returns, the questions only mount. Pretty soon, the belief could spread that Romney indeed paid no taxes, which, while Grover Norquist may approve, would probably make him unelectable.

Romney’s tax rate wouldn’t necessarily have to be 0 percent to doom him. If he paid under 10 percent, the majority of the middle class would begin to wonder why they have a substantially higher tax rate than they previously thought — compared to the multi-millionaire whose high-paid accountant is exploiting every loophole and offshore account he can find.

Of course, Reid’s accusation could blow up in his face if Romney releases prior tax returns that prove he had nothing to hide. So far, there is nothing indicating that Romney will release the returns.

Or that he even wants to, knowing that it could cost him the Presidency.

Featured photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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