The returning issue of Romney’s tax returns
Tax returns are not trivial
In the land of abundance, the legal obligations of citizenship rest lightly for most Americans. With no military draft or compulsory youth service, the United States actually requires little in the way of civic obligation–that is, obligation imposed by law and justice. Jury duty, maybe. Community service, maybe, depending on your school district, but only for students in school at the time (and their parents, dragooned indirectly to chauffeur them). Showing up to vote? If you don’t want to, no one can make you. Military service, maybe, but only if you sign up, and aside from the occasional court-mediated pre-sentencing agreement for young people, there is no one in officialdom to make you sign up. We may not always find feasible transportation to work, we may not find good jobs, we may not always be able to get needed medical attention. And of course we are supposed to eschew crime. But our system of government imposes few affirmative obligations on us individually as we go about our day. That leaves taxes as one of the few government-imposed legal obligations for the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens and legal residents.
Thus it is either funny how much fuss the right-wing noise machine makes about government, when you think about it, or no wonder GOPers make such a fuss about taxes. If media personalities in the foaming-lips crowd want to represent the president as some kind of tyrant, they have little work with.
All this means that discussion about Mitt Romney’s tax returns, and questions about why Romney has not released them, are not trivial, silly or superficial. I respectfully disagree that the presidential candidate’s refusal to disclose his own IRS returns is a side issue.
Furthermore, Romney’s refusal to release his individual tax returns magnifies his inability to disclose his tax plans–tax policy–for other Americans.
Rep. Paul Ryan was repeatedly recommended as a vice-presidential pick before appearing in reports on Romney’s short list, before Romney took him on board Aug. 11–and not always by conservatives. In the context of taxes, former automobile ‘czar’ Steven Rattner on ABC’s This Week had this to say:
“I personally would love to see [Romney] pick Paul Ryan, because then we could actually have a decision about Romney’s economic plan, which he is not discussing, because I think when people actually understand his plan, they’ll understand all the tax things that we talked about. They’ll understand the spending implications of the Ryan budget plan in terms of what it does to Medicare, privatizing it, what it does to Medicaid, turning it into a block grant program, and then 33 percent cuts that are going to occur in a whole series of programs, including things like food stamps. Just to make his numbers work. So I would welcome Ryan and the discussion we have about it.”
The next speaker, former White House environmental advisor Van Jones, brought the Aug. 5 discussion closer to tax returns as well as to taxes:
“We’re talking about two different things here. We have a problem with Mitt Romney, because it seems that Mitt Romney doesn’t understand what ordinary people are going through. He’s talking—he’s had these magical mystery numbers about, oh, we’re going to close loopholes. When you dig down into it, the levels, what he’s calling loopholes as you are saying, are what ordinary people rely on to keep moving forward in the economy. So I think what you got here is do you want to elect somebody who won’t tell you how much money he’s making and won’t give you his tax returns, but with all he’s put on paper, will cut his taxes and raise yours. That’s the real question.”
One of Ryan’s biggest boosters, George H. W. Bush speechwriter Mary Kate Cary, pushed for Ryan in hopes that he would distract attention from Romney’s tax returns:
“This is an election about “big ideas,” and the longer it stays on small issues like Bain Capital and Romney’s tax returns, the worse Romney will do. Ryan is the intellectual leader of the party—who better to take the Republican case to voters in common sense language about how high the stakes are? Time to move from defense to offense.”
Moving back a little earlier in time than the presidential-campaign year, if we remember, Romney declined to weigh in on any congressional disputes over the payroll tax. Thus when congressional Republicans argued–in effect–that payroll taxes don’t count, compared to income tax, Romney offered no reasoned correction. (He has, after all, said in private that “47 percent” of Americans pay no income tax without mentioning that those people do pay payroll taxes.) Romney, the man running as CEO who can fix things, has taken little to no part in any of the fiscal policy disputes embroiling Congress. When he did take part–belatedly and reluctantly–he blew hot and cold, first over Ryan’s budget, then over the debt-ceiling deal. (Right now it looks as though Ryan is returning the favor by positioning himself for 2016, as much as working to benefit Romney.)
The refusal to release his own tax returns is one of few issues on which the GOP nominee for the White House has been consistent, and Romney has held to this one position even under heavy fire. Even in the Republican primary season, with Newt Gingrich among others calling for Romney to release his tax returns, no dice. He held to the position even when several right-wing commentators weighed in, in concert, with the same advice.
Romney himself recognizes that his unearned income, his inherited wealth and connections, and his immense fortune acquired through finance are less than political assets. He has played down the amount of money he inherited outright–though the amount would be substantial for almost anyone else. He modestly deprecated $374,000 in speaking fees as “not very much.” He told at least one audience that he, too, feared being fired, feared getting a pink slip. The partial tax returns released do everything possible to minimize his assets abroad in the Caymans and elsewhere. And in the Oct. 18 town-hall debate, Romney even made the remarkable claim that “I came through small business.”
These are not the actions of a candidate oblivious to the impact of tax discussion.
Taking a leaf from Rupert Murdoch’s book, Bain Capital over the years has invested heavily in media companies in the U.S. and abroad, one example being Clear Channel–a conduit for Bush administration communiques. Other media acquisitions and investments include Warner Music, The Weather Channel and AMC Entertainment, but completed media deals are only part of the picture; the Bain Capital track record also includes several foiled attempts (including in China). No one writes about Bain and media companies, but Bain Capital has a pattern of acquiring or trying to acquire a number of large media companies, in the U.S. and abroad. Thus, just as GOP federal-state links cemented under the GWBush administration have continued to solidify and expand–reinforced by superPACs, well-funded lobbying and party ties–so have GOP government-corporate links, including politics-media links. All signs point to a party (GOP)-government-media nexus on steroids under a Romney White House. It’s the right-wing noise machine grown more elegant, so to speak, because quieter and subtler. Gives a whole new meaning to the old term “fourth estate.”