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[politics] Mitt Romney's tax returns - Lakeshore
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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-08-06 05:46
Subject: [politics] Mitt Romney's tax returns
Security: Public
Tags:healthcare, politics
One of the ways I look at life is that I try pretty hard to think about fairness. "Do as you would be done by," basically. This is my general policy in everything from parenting to dating to finance to personal behavior. It colors of my view of politics, the economy, race, class, gender, and social justice and privilege in general.

Fairness is almost the first casualty of political rhetoric. Pretty much everybody in politics does this. Partisans who will staunchly defend Their Own Guy's behavior will condemn identical behavior in The Other Guy.

Likewise policies. Look at the Republican response to the Affordable Care Act, which was closely templated on Mitt Romney's healthcare initiative while he was governor of Massachusetts. If there was ever an approach more tailor made for bipartisanship than a Democratic president proposing a national version of a highly popular and successful Republican reform initiative which manages to both cut costs and improve services, I can't think what it would be.

Yet the very same law that was responsible conservative stewardship under a Republican governor has become screamingly unacceptable Socialism and an infringement of personal liberty under a Democratic president. Partisanship, specifically the overwhelming GOP desire to deny Obama any form of success at any point, has trumped both fairness and common sense in a ferocious way.

That the same Governor Mitt Romney who enacted the Massachusetts health reforms is now as Candidate Mitt Romney the standard bearer of a party campaign strongly focused on denouncing those same health reforms is just a delicious piece of bizarre irony which will baffle political scientists of future generations.

On to Romney's tax returns…

I really couldn't care less about his tax returns. He's a very rich dude. We've always known that about him, ever since Romney became a public figure. The details are whatever they are. Unless he's withholding his returns to conceal material fraud or criminal behavior, I honestly don't think they're all that relevant. Who cares precisely how wealthy he is? How does that change the national conversation?

I'm not saying this isn't an important question. I'm saying the importance is not in the details of tax filings. The importance is in the broad strokes of the economic and class narrative that has become a definitive issue in this election. Absent fraud or criminality, the tax returns are basically details. Important to certain kinds of electoral wonks, but not terribly relevant to the public as a whole.

Even if Romney literally paid no taxes in some years, as Senator Reid has alleged, so long as he did it legally, I don't care. Romney's a rich dude. Just like big corporations, rich dudes have accountants and lawyers who manage their taxes with the specific goal of minimizing the burden. Money takes care of itself. That's one of the iron laws of capitalism. if you don't like it, take that issue up with Congress, who writes the tax code. Not with the rich, who live under it.

(And no, I don't like it either. Just making the point that Romney's tax history really isn't a legitimate issue per se given the way the system works today. In this case, the flaws are in the system, not in Romney or his candidacy.)

What is hugely important to me is the politics of the situation. I'm going back to my lede about fairness here. Every major presidential candidate since (ironically enough) George Romney in the 1968 election cycle has released substantial personal financial information, including years of tax returns. While that's certainly not required by law, nor should it be in my opinion, it's a significant gesture of good faith with respect to revealing potential or perceived conflicts of interest and matters of personal history which are in fact quite relevant in selecting a national leader.

After well over four decades of this tradition, Romney's not releasing the tax returns is like setting a giant bonfire declaring, "I have something to hide."

It's apparently the political equivalent of destruction of evidence. You see destruction of evidence when corporations or people accused of misconduct make the calculation that the penalties for that destruction of evidence are less substantial than the penalties for the alleged crime under investigation.

The Romney campaign has obviously decided that whatever is in those tax returns (and my guess is Senator Reid is right, or close to right) is so politically toxic that they would rather weather the storm of holding them back than deal with the consequences of the release of those documents.

Many figures in the GOP political and media elite are backing Romney up on this. Claiming that his privacy applies. Claiming that this is a personal decision. Pointing out the release of the tax returns is not required by law. Accusing Obama and the Democrats of fishing for trouble.

So, fairness.

Is there a single figure in the GOP political and media elite who would have embraced Clinton's refusing to release his tax records under any conceivable grounds? Or Obama? Is it even conceivable that the entire Republican establishment would have done anything other than go into a paroxysm of conspiracy paranoia over such secrecy?

Even more ironically, Romney himself has taken in the past precisely the opposite viewpoint to his current highly principled stance on financial privacy when it came to demanding senatorial campaign opponent Ted Kennedy release his tax returns in order to prove that he had "nothing to hide". Do as you would be done by, Mitt? Again, fairness.

Sadly, "Do as you would be done by" almost never applies in politics. The profoundly brazen hypocrisy of the very same people who would crucify any significant Democratic figure for holding back personal financial information turning around to vigorously defend the financial privacy of the richest man ever to run for president is both entertaining and infuriating to watch.

It's obvious enough where this comes from. One of the primary assumptions of partisan politics is that Our Guy Is a Trustworthy Statesman, While Your Guy Is A Lying Skunk. All those GOP politicos and pundits know perfectly well that Romney is trustworthy and has nothing to hide. They honestly believe that anyone who says otherwise is engaging in character assassination. At the same time, they also know perfectly well that Clinton was a criminal conspiracist whose misdeeds were only covered up by a trail of bodies, and that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Socialist bent on the destruction of America. They're not being unfair, they're just pointing out the "truths" that seem obvious to them.

If this tax return question is the worst thing that Romney has to weather on his road to either winning or losing the White House, then he has it much better than either Clinton or Obama did on any single day of either their candidacies or their presidencies. But Romney's partisans will never see it that way. They will never recognize their own profound unfairness.

Because fairness is the first casualty of political rhetoric.

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jordan179
User: jordan179
Date: 2012-08-06 12:54 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Why is Romney expected to release all his records when Obama has never released very many of his own?
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Jay Lake: politics-upsidedown_flag
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-06 13:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:politics-upsidedown_flag
You're derailing again, and wrong. A double fail. Which you then use to create a false equivalency that helps you cast Obama in a bad light, something that is clearly very important to you.

Derail: The question is about tax returns, which every major party candidate since 1968 has released. Including Obama. Except for Romney. In its own terms that's a fair question.

Derail #2: My whole point was that I don't really care about Romney's tax returns. You're changing the subject.

Wrong: Obama has released all his relevant records and much more besides. Including the infamous birth certificate. Obama's "failure" to release, for example, his college admission records or grades is no different from the failure of any major party candidate to do the same. Have you seen Romney's transcripts? Have you even thought to demand that he release them? What about Bush's? Or Reagan's? Furthermore, most of the records Obama is accused of not releasing are in fact released or in the public domain.
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houseboatonstyx: smaller-healing-buddha
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2012-08-07 01:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:smaller-healing-buddha
Maybe there's some context with Jordan that I haven't seen ... but your reply here sounds awfully flamey.

I don't like GOP or Romney, but imo the default should be that every candidate for such an important office should release everything asked for, precedent or no. There doesn't need to be some special precedent requiring release of X. It's non-release that should require some special excuse.

Obama has said his education was financed by scholarships and his own summer jobs, iirc, and I think he should release the evidence to support that. Among other things.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-07 04:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't necessarily disagree with the your desire for a default release of documents, but that's not the issue at hand. Romney is failing to comply with a basic standard that all presidential candidates, including GOP candidates, have observed for about two generations. He really shouldn't get a free pass on that, even though I believe the details of the tax returns are largely immaterial.

The question about other document releases, such as college information, is legitimate, but only if applied across the board to all candidates. Much as the tax return release expectation has long been done. I have literally never heard of anyone calling for Romney to release his college admissions or transcripts — that rhetoric comes entirely from people seeking to undermine Obama's legitimacy, convinced there is something which has been hidden. It doesn't arise from the sense of balanced disclosure to which you are alluding.
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jere7my: Glasses
User: jere7my
Date: 2012-08-06 15:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Glasses
You might find this graph helpful:

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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2012-08-06 13:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
QUOTE: " Unless he's withholding his returns to conceal material fraud or criminal behavior, I honestly don't think they're all that relevant. Who cares precisely how wealthy he is? How does that change the national conversation?"

It's relevant because I do not want to elect someone who doesn't support governmental transparency. It's relevant because I do not want a president who made a bundle outsourcing American jobs.

I feel that there is no way Romney would refuse to release them at this point if he didn't have something to hide. It's common sense.
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Steve: Hal 9000 (2001)
User: anton_p_nym
Date: 2012-08-06 14:28 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Hal 9000 (2001)
I was under the (mis?)understanding that the purpose of showing the tax returns was to disclose possible conflicts of interest. If a candidate posts huge incomes from, say, casino magnates then folks'd know there's a chance decisions that affect the gaming industry may contain a bias in the favour of said magnates.

-- Steve thinks that'd be the only legitimate purpose served by such a disclosure, but then again the US political system tends to be fuelled by prurient desire for lurid headlines rather than a serious review of resumes/CVs.
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Jay Lake: politics-report
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-08-06 14:38 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:politics-report
This is just my opinion, but I don't think it's that clear-cut. For one thing, the conflict of interest from PACs and lobbying is fantastically more substantial than personal income issues, even at Mitt Romney's stratospheric earning levels.

For most voters, I think this is more of a political ritual, a way of expressing transparency and honesty, than something that has direct evaluative significance.

For that matter, speaking of direct and profound conflicts of interest in politics, being CEO of Halliburton certainly didn't cast any credibility issues on Dick Cheney.
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mcjulie
User: mcjulie
Date: 2012-08-06 14:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
In this case, the flaws are in the system, not in Romney or his candidacy.

This is my working theory about why he doesn't want to release them. Sure, he paid little to no taxes, and it was entirely legal, so what? Well, the so what is that a guy as rich as Romney paying almost no taxes simply reflects very, very badly on Republican tax policy. A lot of potential swing voters might go, "you're right! we DO have to make the rich pay their fair share!" and vote D instead.
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User: nicosian
Date: 2012-08-06 15:25 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I agree, its really not about how many returns he releases, but the demands on Obama to release ALL his personal files from birth records to, well, transcripts k-12, and university, and everything else, that makes me side eye the GOP quite heavily.

And Romney's demand that other people release info he himself isn't apparently in any sort of state of motivation to do, just strikes me as rather duplicitous.

But then, I don't think there's much honesty about Romney, that he's truly completely gormlessly out of touch with the issues the US faces, and his wife only backs up their utter sense of privilege every time she opens her flapping mouth. If it weren't an election year, I'd figure them for some elaborate performance art piece.

The US political system is really utterly broken. ( and canada, my dear homeland, is in dubious shape when we elect a mayor who has no idea we can't deport citizens.)

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houseboatonstyx: smaller-healing-buddha
User: houseboatonstyx
Date: 2012-08-07 00:18 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:smaller-healing-buddha
Personally, I think both candidates should release EVERYTHING.
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User: nicosian
Date: 2012-08-07 00:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
At least documents pertaining to their platform:

run on education or anti-education ( ala Santorum who thinks college is elitist yet holds degrees, or people who snit that Obama's too educated, what of their degrees)

run on anything re healthcare: show us you're not currying favor with for profit interest groups to line your pocket.

But then I'd also like a pony, and to see religion out of politics but y'know, wishes and dreams.
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Dave O'Neill
User: daveon
Date: 2012-08-06 17:39 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I don't think Mitt Romney does anything by accident. He might say stupid things because he's not thought about them, but nothing he does involving money seems to be random.

I don't believe that he doesn't know to a few thousand dollars what he pays in tax because this is a man who cares deeply about money and how it works. Yes he has accountants but somebody who has them work that hard to find places to save money AND claims things that he must know damn well will look bad ($70,000 on a therapy horse? Really?) doesn't do that if they aren't interested in the outcome.

He released returns to McCain and Steve Schmidt, who doesn't seem to have a republican dog in the race anymore seemed to think there wasn't anything bad in the pre-2008 ones.

Therefore there is obviously something in 2009 returns that Romney and his team have decided is so toxic that they can't afford for it to go public.

I suspect strongly that he may have taken that amnesty which probably kills his campaign dead.

Why in the hell he didn't fix his tax affairs and live with paying a few percentage points more for the last decade is beyond me, but speaks more to his lack of actual interest in being the President versus his desire to be called Mr President (if that makes sense).
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Deborah J. Ross
User: deborahjross
Date: 2012-08-06 17:53 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Many good points here.

I think it likely that Romney has a squad of highly paid and competent accountants preparing his taxes and that the returns are entirely within the letter of the law. Romney's persistent refusal to release them creates the appearance of wrong-doing. If you or I refused to make our tax returns public, it would be considered a matter of privacy. But someone running for such a high office is held, rightly or wrongly, to a different standard. In this situation, Romney is being asked to comply with a precedent applied to others seeking the office for which he is a candidate - and which he demands his opponent adhere to.
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blue_23
User: blue_23
Date: 2012-08-08 12:40 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I'm don't agree that not releasing his tax returns is a "double" standard. He set that standard in the senatorial election by asking Ted Kennedy to release them. So the standard from Mitt is set - tax returns should be released. Once he's set that personal standard for others, it's nothing but hypocrisy not to release them himself when asked.

Regardless if others are releasing information at all, he has personally embraced releasing tax returns as part of the election process, and if he's not willing to apply the same standards to himself he applies to others, that speaks poorly about his character.
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Swan Tower
User: swan_tower
Date: 2012-08-06 18:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I suspect there's at least a few people out there trying to arrange a WikiLeaks-style breach. The longer this situation goes on, the more it becomes red meat to that sort of activist.
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Amanda
User: cissa
Date: 2012-08-06 20:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Are you aware that when Romney left the MA governorship, he and his staff destroyed many of the records that they were legally required to archive- including pretty much all of the emails ever sent, etc.?

That hasn't had a lot of play even here in Boston, but the Globe has covered it to some extent. When Patrick took over, all that data was just... vanished. They even figured out a way where the staffers could buy the hard drives, so there was not chance of pulling anything off of them- the computers were all sold or stripped.

My Google-fu is weak, but one could probably pull up something about this online.
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Swan Tower
User: swan_tower
Date: 2012-08-06 21:55 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's also issues of transparency around the Salt Lake games, if memory serves. Romney promised to make a whole ton of documents available, but he ended up delivering far less.

This is a pattern with him, and a worrisome one.
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Amanda
User: cissa
Date: 2012-08-06 22:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
YES. That had slipped my mind when I posted the above.

It is very worrisome that he has a habit of destroying records of what he's done. It makes me wonder if what he's done is more like Enron than something legal.

And when he breaks the law to destroy records that he was legally obligated to archive- well, what does that say about his respect for the law? (Not that he had much anyway; he was in no reasonably way qualified to run for MA governorship, but finessed/bribed his way through it.)

I dislike him for lots of reasons... but I'm scared of him because he literally has NO respect for the law if he can cheat his way around it. I am really hoping that some of these things become actual issues in the campaign- why I wrote the above.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2012-08-22 01:31 (UTC)
Subject: Romney
Mitt Romney is slick and full of trickery and deception.
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