Friday, August 3, 2012

The High Ground? Lonely

Of course it's irresponsible for an elected official -- and not just any elected official, but a high ranking one, the Senate Majority Leader -- to make reckless, rumor-based allegations against a presidential candidate.

Is there any defense for Harry Reid? Only that it could be worse. I mean, he's not accusing Mitt Romney of a crime, or even necessarily something unethical -- by Romney's own standards, it would be more problematic for Romney to be paying any tax if he can legally avoid it, so by Romney standards there's nothing necessarily unethical about not paying taxes. On the other hand, while I suspect a lot of people agree with the Romney standard expressed that way, I'd also guess that most people would also assume that if Romney hasn't paid taxes he's probably cheating in some way. At any rate, this is no kind of healthy politics. The Majority Leader of the Senate is either amplifying unproven rumors or just making stuff up. Reid's free to do it, but the fair consequence is that he gets (or adds to) a reputation for being reckless and irresponsible.

And good for liberals who point that out.

On the other hand.

I disagree with one of those liberals, Steve Benen, who writes that "Romney had the high ground against a cheap shot." I mean, I see his point, but you know what? Romney had previously forfeited any claim to having any high ground on this one by violating the norm of presidential candidates releasing tax returns. I don't know that it's a particularly useful norm -- I don't really think it's likely that any presidential nominee will be undermined by anything in his or her tax returns, Romney included, and I'm really not interested in supposed conflicts of interest at that level. But that's irrelevant. It's a norm of modern presidential politics, and if you violate that, you have no high ground to begin with. Nor has Romney given any particularly convincing reason for why the norm should not apply generally or to him in particular; to the contrary, his campaign wound up justifying it was a lie about John Kerry's tax returns, a lie they repeated after it had been pointed out. So, yeah, invoke cliches about sowing and reaping, please.

That doesn't, in my view, excuse Reid. Just because someone is asking for a cheap shot doesn't make it okay to take a cheap shot! But the high ground is usually pretty vacant during presidential elections, and Romney certainly wasn't occupying it on this issue.

36 comments:

  1. The Majority Leader of the Senate is either amplifying unproven rumors or just making stuff up.

    What if Reid obtained the information from a reliable source, as he says he did?

    I see the grounds for criticism here, but I am reminded of the National Enquirer articles about John Edwards which I thought were so reprehensible, until it turned out that they were completely accurate.

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  2. Republicans become disgusted with individuals who get a free ride. I have to work, they holler, I pay all these taxes, and that jerk gets away with it!

    I expect Team Obama to hammer this message with the white working class for 100 straight days. They're on the hook for payroll taxes. They're on the hook for income taxes. If Team Romney won't say how much he paid, Team Obama will be happy to speculate. And a lot of wealthy people don't pay income taxes. For many, it's a game. It may be legal, but that's not going to change the reaction of the white working class.

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  3. Up until now, I always assumed that Romney would eventually tire of all the hollering about his tax returns and finally release them, and that would be the end of it. Now, I'm not so sure. If Reid is really making this up, then he is leaving himself pretty exposed. Romney could shoot him down in 15 seconds by simply releasing the returns. This suggests that Reid is pretty confident that Romney has reasons not to do so.

    I've heard Republicans say that Reid is accusing Romney of a crime, but as JB suggests, that's not necessarily the case. Rather than concealing a crime, Romney could be worried about drawing attention to just how much the law accommodates someone like him in avoiding tax payments.

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  4. Somewhat far afield from the main point of the post, but: I don't think it would make a difference to Romney's chances in Nov. even if he had paid no or little taxes either. But from a marketing perspective, I think its possible that the assumption of cheating isn't the only thing that might provoke a disgruntled response from the few who learn about it and aren't already decided.

    There are (at least) two broad types of arguments against higher taxes: moral arguments based on ownership and economic arguments based on efficiency and incentives. If you are persuaded by moral arguments, you probably will not care that Romney paid little in taxes; you might even approve. However, if you care about economic efficiency and incentives, you might wonder what economic good low tax rates for someone in Romney's position do. He hasn't been "job creating" with his money for awhile now, it isn't going back into the economy, he doesn't need the promise of low taxes as incentive to invest more, and it isn't going into the pot for public use either. So it just sits there. And that's the sort of money that seems eminently reasonable to tax, particularly if SOMEONE must bear the burden of increased taxes, as is the case in our current predicament. So it might provide ammunition for Obama's side in the fight about taxes. And to fight a higher tax rate on that sort of money seems just plain greedy, because it might be perceived that he already has more than he could ever spend or need, and that it is a way of keeping wealth just for the sake of wealth (is this still an appropriate characterization of "greedy"?). So it might hurt personal perception, as well.

    As I say, I doubt revealing past tax information would make much of a difference, but I don't think cheating is the only (probably inconsequential) black eye that might come from it.

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    1. And that's the sort of money that seems eminently reasonable to tax, particularly if SOMEONE must bear the burden of increased taxes, as is the case in our current predicament.

      This is several orders of magnitude beyond what Joe Voter is going to understand.

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    2. It's very unlikely to Romney's money is just sitting there doing nothing. It's presumably invested, i.e. is mostly stocks and bonds of various kinds. We already know he's benefiting from the capital gains rate, which you get for earnings on money you've invested. Even if it were all just bank deposits, it would still be helping to capitalize those banks -- some of which might even be in the U.S. ;-)

      A bolder candidate would point to this and explain that this is what makes rich people "job creators" and why they need low (or sometimes, zero) taxes. That would truly be carrying the banner of the right. Romney's in this difficulty because at some level he doesn't believe the right's arguments and/or assumes that Americans in general never will.

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  5. I don't think Reid is playing a dangerous game. It's not as though he has a super-clean reputation anyway. When Romney says "Put up or shut up," a lot of people are reminded that Romney himself isn't "putting up."

    I'm also finding the response fascinating. It's taken no time at all for the same tactic to be used against Reid. I'm hoping that it will raise people's awareness of crappy campaign tactics on all sides.

    Also, the parody is so much more fun than high dudgeon and outrage. So cheers!

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  6. So, a question: If Harry Reid, or whoever, really does have the political dirt on an opponent, and has it from a reliable source who doesn't want to be named, what is the appropriate thing for him to do with it?

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    1. Well, the high ground answer is, he should either convince the source to go public or he should verify the information for himself so that he can make the accusation without relying on the source. Without that, the pol would be passing on unverified information, by definition.

      That's the high ground answer. I express no opinion about whether Reid is obliged to take the high ground, or whether (as Jeff says below) when confronted with a complete stonewall it would be irresponsible not to speculate. I'm pretty sure that it was amazingly dumb for Romney to introduce the line "put up or shut up" into this discussion.

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  7. The problem is that you don't want a tactic of pure stonewalling to work. What would make it work? A tacit agreement that unless we know for sure, we shouldn't speculate. That just licenses Romney to shut down the whole discussion by continuing to stonewall.

    Now, you could say that Reid did more than speculate, he claimed to have information, and he didn't name his informants. But he made clear why he thought they were in a position to know something, but also that he wasn't sure how much they actually did know. He didn't say "These people have actually seen Romney's tax returns, and....." So, maybe he was just reporting the speculation of others. I have trouble seeing why that's worse than someone speculating on his own, or why (possibly) informed speculation is worse than completely uninformed speculation. It comes back to the fact that Romney is the guy with information he's withholding, that the information in question is widely conceded to be relevant to a presidential election, and that in a democracy we can't stop discussing matters relevant to presidential elections because one of the candidates doesn't want us to. In short: Go Harry!

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    1. I also don't understand why Reid is being held to a higher standard than a lot of journalists, who also refuse to name their informants.

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  8. Really ....Harry Reid needs to put up or shut up. That is hilarious! How about Mitt releasing his tax returns. That is why conservatives are full of dog crap! If Mitt was Obama I am sure you guys would be satisfied with just 1 return. You guys make me laugh.
    Mitt is useless. He has his horse in the Olympics and he backs away with the excuse it is his wife's horse. I know I would support my wife period, no matter the consequences. He does anything and says anything if it will get him elected.

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  9. This would all be so much funnier if Harry Reid was Francis Urquhart, the Machiavellian Prime Minister in that British series, "House of Cards."

    He wouldn't have to accuse Mitt Romney of anything! He could just drop the hint to an impressionable journalist and then say "You might very well think that, but I couldn't POSSIBLY comment..."

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    1. Excellent comparison to a great series (and great acting performance).

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  10. This may be splitting (fake Mitt Romney) hairs, but there's an important, if subtle, difference between "paying no taxes" and "having a tax bill of $0". Presumably Reid's not claiming that Romney in any way avoided the normal IRS process, rather that when Romney finally made it to the bottom of his 1040, taxes owed was $0 for the years in question.

    Even though, as Jeff said earlier, Romney's income mostly flows through the advantageous tax brackets of dividends and long-term capital gains, any taxable income would be hit with (at least) a 15% tax due. A $0 tax bill implies $0 taxable income; there are probably only two plausible ways for that to occur, either of which is germane to the election.

    First, its possible that Romney has found a way to flow all of his income through foreign sources without any of it being repatriated. We all suspect that rich dudes do a fair bit of that; if folks in Romney's neighborhood are able to flow their entire income through foreign sources, without any clawback, that's an extremely important general learning for we the hoi polloi, with Romney the poster child for something extremely aversive. If nothing else, a fellow like Romney shielding all his income, with no clawbacks, would potentially put paid to any vestige of an argument for a flat tax (against a progressive tax) in the US.

    The second possibility is that Romney is benefitting from outsized deductions related to lingering closeness to Bain Capital, with those deductions related to reserves established to pay for the turfing of workers in vultured firms. Both the source of the deductions, plus the presumed lingering tie with Bain, would also be meaningful to the electorate.

    There could be other explanations, but the allegation is so extraordinary, its hard to figure what those other explanations might be. Sure, its a bit distasteful on Reid's part, but he's not saying Romney was seen with a cabana boy, he's making an observation that is, if true, really quite material to the election.

    An observation that should have been easily dispelled by Romney a long time ago, by the way.

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    1. The second possibility is that Romney is benefitting from outsized deductions related to lingering closeness to Bain Capital, with those deductions related to reserves established to pay for the turfing of workers in vultured firms.

      CSH, no one's ever mistaken me for a tax accountant, so I'm curious about what kind of mechanism you're describing here. Can you explain it a little further? How would this work?

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    2. Jeff, thanks for the question, not a cost accountant either, so (as with everything I write) YMMV.

      First, we don't know how much Bain Capital activity finds its way to Mitt's personal tax return. Put that issue aside for a moment. When Bain Capital takes over a firm, they do a "restructuring", polite terminology for firing a bunch of people, and during the restructuring they set up a reserve, in order to charge off against earnings today the estimated future accounting costs of the restructuring, which here means firing people, with the costs including severances, retraining costs, and other packages, etc.

      Depending on the timing of these matters, Bain Capital could have several "restructurings" on the go in a tax period, the future costs of which could offset current earnings enough such that they owed Uncle Sam virtually nothing. Would that sort of thing flow through to Mitt's personal return? I've really no idea.

      The point about Reid's assertion, though, is not that his source is claiming that Romney is paying a (Warren-Buffett-esque) "low effective tax rate" - we know that from Romney's 2010 return. The claim is that Romney paid zero taxes, which means either all his income went elsewhere and wasn't repatriated, or Romney had a historically brilliant series of deductions over several years. I'm certainly no expert, but even with the best tax planning money can buy, its hard to imagine a private citizen getting all the way to a $0 tax bill. Its easy to imagine Bain Capital doing that. Are Romney and Bain now separate entities? Interesting question.

      BTW, Jeff, I recall a while back you spoke somewhat disdainfully of Clinton's ability to take a punch, noting that all liberals can take a punch, maybe occasionally a liberal should throw one. I suspect Harry Reid threw a haymaker this week. It was dirty and ignoble and probably just made this election, and politics in the US, a whole lot more interesting.

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    3. Thanks for this, CSH. Yeah, that's been my point for a long time -- I think the best way to raise the level of political discussion is to remove the incentive for either side to lower it. The way you do that is simple deterrence: You let the other side know that you're prepared to fight as dirty as they are. So, instead of complaining about the obvious distortion of Romney's "You didn't build that" commercials, Obama or one of his SuperPACs should run commercials equally and deliberately unfair to Romney, maybe using clips of him saying "I like to fire people" or whatever other target of opportunity he offers up next. The goal wouldn't be a future of campaigns that are all out-of-context misquotes, but a future largely free of those because both sides understand that going down that road is too dangerous. I'm not sure why this fairly obvious logic isn't more widely embraced. I mean, look at the Cold War: Mutually Assured Destruction = neither side going nuclear, right?

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    4. Jeff,
      There is only one problem with your perfectly reasonable logic: One side of the divide is incapable of seeing it. Worse yet, they might even be capable of seeing the logic, but it still wouldn't stop them.

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    5. CSH,

      Now I know why we like you.

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    6. Jeff and nanute,

      Fascinating ideas, but the descriptions feel like they fall short. Unlike nuclear mutually assured destruction, in campaigning there isn't verifiable physical damage. So there is no clear line that one crosses, nor is there clear physical damage.

      We might think there are lines people won't cross, but as cable TV has shown us, these lines are crossed and eventually obliterated.

      So I guess I agree with nanute. There isn't really anything stopping "one side" from crossing over into the zone Jeff called "mutual assured destruction," and they're doing it.

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    7. I could be wrong, of course, but let me explain why I'm a little more optimistic about my deterrence theory working. Presidential campaigns are not, by and large, run by wingnuts. Besides the candidate, the people making the high-level decisions are political professionals. They're paid to think a move or two ahead, to recognize their own campaign's vulnerabilities, and therefore to think through what the race will look like if certain tactics are allowed. They also know they have counterparts on the other side doing the same thing. This is not unlike the war-gaming that went on during the Cold War. The political consultants who do it for campaigns obviously want to win, but they also take pride in their reputations as skilled professionals, and those reputations would suffer particularly badly if they lose ugly, i.e. if they go for gutter tactics and wind up still unable to win because the other side goes there too.

      Furthermore, deterrence is easily grasped. Even lab rats understand it: Don't touch the red button or you get an electric shock. If a lab rat can grasp this, then so even can Karl Rove. The only reason Rove and his ilk have been hitting the red button so often is that they've known that up until now it wasn't wired to anything.

      One last point: It's not irrelevant how the campaigns get covered in the media. You do still benefit from having the Times, the Post, and the occasional centrist moralist like David Gergen treating your campaign with sympathy and not the way they treated Al Gore's (for instance). Let's say Obama did what I suggested above and ran commercials featuring Romney saying "I like to fire people." If the Romney people complained that this was a distortion, that in context he was saying something else, it would be impossible to report that without (for balance!) noting that Romney had recently done exactly the same thing. Which brings us back to Harry Reid: His comments were a way of serving notice on the Romney campaign that it's in a box, that its resort to a questionable tactic -- claiming Romney has no tax problems while not releasing the returns -- disables it from complaining about certain things, like speculation about Romney's finances, without just generating further stories bad for their side. I'm guessing the pros on the GOP side understand all this, that they'd much prefer a world in which tax returns were not an issue, and that in this case their advice is just being overruled by the candidate himself.

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    8. I'm surprised Romney went with the "Put up or shut up" line because it can be turned so easily on him, since most of his platform is vague hand-waving. In fact, I wondered if Reid did this partly to goad him into saying those words.

      But on the deterrence argument, the rats have to know what objects are rigged and thus have to be avoided. In something as wide open as a campaign, how do you put that threat out there? - "touch this and you're deadmeat."

      I think I'll have to see it in practice to believe it. Or maybe you're not using the right metaphor.

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    9. I guess the short answer is, you put the threat out there by doing it -- once in a while, anyway, or in direct retaliation for having it done to you. The great thing about this situation in contrast to the Cold War is that we're not talking about blowing up a city, just cutting a TV ad now and then.

      But I agree, we need to see what actually happens in practice, and in that regard, Harry Reid has helped us out by giving us a test case. Let's see what happens next.

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  11. I've seen some hand-wringing among erstwhile liberals about Harry Reid goading Romney. They see it as an effective rhetorical tactic against this particularly corrupt oligarch, but are worried that if they endorse it wholeheartedly, there is no limiting principle if someone decides to turn the same tactic against public servants acting in good faith.

    I'm just going to go ahead and ignore the fact that the right has taken all leave of its senses, and has never let rational thinking or decency get in the way of a good smear lately. After all, we must strive to be better than that.

    So, let me split the difference. I offer a limiting principle on what kind of attack you can make on a political opponent:

    If you, as a candidate, have less than $100 million dollars in personal wealth to combat smears, then you are presumed innocent. If you have over $100 millions dollars in personal wealth, and the cost of unequivocally proving that an insult is factually incorrect would cost you less than $500, any insult that costs less than $500 to disprove is fair game.

    Hey, you know what would cost less than $500 to disprove? Harry Reid's attack on Mittens Romney, who is estimated to be worth over $250 million.

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  12. Rob's point about the "cost" of disproving a claim is key to the difference between Harry Reid's accusation and those made by Michele Bachmann or Joe McCarthy. If Michele Bachmann accuses you of being a Muslim Brotherhood spy or if Joe McCarthy accuses you of being a Communist infiltrator, you cannot pull out an official certified document proving that you are not. All you can do is deny the charge and hope people believe you rather than the accuser. If Reid accuses Romney of not paying taxes and it's not true, Romney already has in his possession official and undeniable proof of his innocence, and there is a well established precedent for presidential candidates to make it public. Instead, he's been saying, in effect, I have the proof but I don't feel like showing it to you.

    On Jeff's point about deterrence. The key to deterrence is a retaliatory blow so horrible that no one will risk facing it. In this case, all we have are actions people are already engaging in pretty freely. But let's adjust the scenario just a bit. Obama should respond to Romney's "You didn't build that" ad directly--or in Pentagon speak, his response should be symmetrical rather than asymmetrical. Let Obama do an ad in which: (1) He plays his own full quote. (2) He comes on for emphasis and says directly, "My point was that government does things like building infrastructure to make people's lives easier and help businesses thrive." (3) He then plays Romney's edited version and Romney's claim about what the phrase meant. (4) Obama asks the audience, "Is that the kind of deceit you want to see in the White House?" Okay, you won't convince the people who already believe all politicians are crooks, but if you go with the "I like to fire people," Romney's people will just say it's unfair and you have to rely on the press to highlight the equivalence (which Fox News won't do anyhow)--and then all you get is equivalence, two guys distorting the facts.

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    1. To me, the problem with that proposed rebuttal is that it keeps Obama on the defensive. The point of deterrence is to make clear that you're prepared to attack: the best defense is a good offense, and all that. And I don't think classic deterrence theory requires the threatened retaliation to be especially horrible. My Cold War analogy was perhaps misleading in that regard. Deterrence has been in use for thousands of years, since long before nuclear weapons, and really just refers to any measure that raises the cost of aggression and changes the other side's calculus of costs and benefits.

      With that in mind, I don't think that equivalence is "all" you would get from ads distorting Romney's words. I'm suggesting that you would also get this: The next time a GOP candidate's advisors are discussing a possible knowing misuse of some Dem candidate's quote, somebody at the table says, "Yeah, but they could do the same with our guy's statement X or Y or Z." The group decides they don't want to make their guy look like Wile E. Coyote, so they move on to some other idea. Again, I can't guarantee this would work -- but I think we've had plenty of evidence that NOT threatening retaliation in kind clearly doesn't work: It just encourages one side to keep sinking ever lower.

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    2. As a P.S., I should perhaps note an example of successful deterrence -- more on point than the Cold War -- that has been chronicled in recent months on this very blog. Obama famously tried for a long time to rise above rank partisanship and woo Republicans in Congress. We saw how this worked -- among other things, they blocked a lot of his appointments for no apparent reason. Then Obama finally got wise and made a few recess appointments. Oh my, how awful of him, said the GOP. They screamed, they squealed, they threatened to sue. It was an "extraordinary and entirely unprecedented power grab" that "would have a devastating effect on the checks and balances that are enshrined in our constitution." Actual quotes.

      And you know what else the GOP did? It got the message, made a deal with Obama, and within a few weeks it had lifted its holds on dozens of other appointees. What the news reports called "a rare sign of bipartisan cooperation" came about because Democrats quit "cooperating" and finally made good on a threat. Clearly that's language that the other side does understand.

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  13. Another thought-provoking discussion. I'm changing my mind a bit on my earlier assessment that Reid was ignoble for how he went after Romney. Somewhat contra Jeff, I think Reid's approach - the Atwater/Rove approach, if you will - is the only sustainable way to succeed in modern politics.

    First, folks who are not professional cognitive psychologists have not embraced the research finding that thinking follows language, or, we hear something prior to believing it - not the other way around, as intellectuals surely hope. Among other things, "thinking following language" provides some support to the Fairness Doctrine - but more importantly, it puts a premium on communicating ideas in an easily-graspable manner.

    For example, ask liberals about Republican dirty tricks and the Swift Boaters will come up relatively early in the litany. Kerry of course came home from Nam and took a star turn in front of Congress, painting in fairly graphic detail how dramatically an already-lost war had gone awry.

    How do you see Kerry for that star turn? Do you see him as an ambitious leader who saw an opportunity and drove it to great heights, or do you see him as a ruthless opportunist, willing to throw his fellows under the bus in kicking a dying war for his own personal gain? Seems to me you can look at Kerry either way, and indeed there's much from his narrative to support either perspective. Seems also that Kerry's opponents in 2004 were highly motivated to have swing voters see him through the lens of the crass opportunist, rather than the ambitious leader.

    The choice, then, facing the Bushies was: trotting out James Baker to the talk show circuit, to explain in his tired, painstaking James Baker way how a young Kerry's Congressional testimony was actually in poor taste, a violation of military omerta, etc...or having some hillbilly peer in the scope of Kerry's testimony come on tv and say "Damn, I hate that guy. He's totally full of it!"

    In a 'thinking-follows-language' sense, that's really no choice at all - and so as long as there was a Boone Pickens with deep enough pockets, there was bound to be a Swift Boat movement, since it was too easy, and important, to characterize Kerry the way the Swift Boaters saw him.

    Which brings us to Reid and Romney...

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  14. Romney has released one complete recent tax return, 2010. That year Romney had an AGI of $21.6 M, on which he owed $3.0 M, for a tax rate of around 14%. Nothing controversial, assuming you support the 15% rate for dividends and capital gains.

    With 2010 known, Mitt Romney is bucking convention and not releasing returns from 2009 and prior. He is doing so at some personal jeopardy, from which we can safely conclude that there is something about those returns that would be worse than the risk of not releasing them. There must be something very different about 2009 and prior in Romney's tax returns, in a way more detrimental to his Presidential chances than not releasing his returns.

    Might his AGI be much higher in 2009 and previous than the $22 M he reported in 2010? 'Tis possible, though its hard to see how, even if his AGI were as high as $220 M, the cost of that info would outweigh the cost of not releasing. That can't be the issue. It also can't possibly be the issue that his tax rate was higher in those prior years.

    Which means, fairly obviously, that either Romney's AGI was a lot lower than $22 M in those prior years, or his effective tax rate was a lot lower, or both, the net result of which being that he paid much less in taxes than the $3 M he shelled out in 2010. Again, this is all obvious enough that any of us would bet a large sum of money on these conclusions. In summary, its fairly clear by now that Romney paid very little tax, relatively, in 2009 and prior compared to 2010.

    Coming full circle, the Dems can trot their own James Baker out to the talk show circuit to explain this all in his own tired voice, or they can have Harry Reid say "I know a guy who has inside info that Romney paid no taxes those years". Either route is essentially landing the listener in more or less the same place. But one (the Reid route) passes the 'thinking follows language' test, and the other (the James Baker route) doesn't.

    So buckle up, idealists: perhaps the Democrats have finally figured out how to win, such that the tabloidification of our culture will soon be complete.

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    1. I think one thing we can be sure about is that if Romney loses, the GOP's 2016 "invisible primary" is going to be much more insistent on financial transparency for any prospective nominee. "Party actors" would be insane to saddle themselves with this kind of problem again, and I think they know it.

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    2. Seems likely; however, as opposed to auguring a new day in political civility, that may just be the latest chapter in an endless game of political Whack-a-Mole.

      If so, its better for the Dems to play too as opposed to remaining above that fray.

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    3. My outrage-o-meter stopped working long ago, but it's fascinating how outraged Repubs are considering that Glenn Beck was spinning conspiracy theories on the thinnest grounds, unsourced questions (ha) or allegations are de rigeur for Fox News, and Michelle Bachmann got to debate with all the other GOP candidates despite her history. The GOP may SAY they're outraged at the tactic, but they're really just outraged that a high-placed Democrat is using it against them.

      How about this for a metaphor--no unilateral disarmament. I'm a former lib who stopped supporting that vs. the Soviets about 1981. I don't support it for the Dems now either, and for the same reasons. There's no reason for a good person to enter a conflict with a self-imposed handicap.

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    4. Sounds good to me!

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    5. There's no reason for a good person to enter a conflict with a self-imposed handicap.

      This sums up the discussion perfectly, and for what it's worth, it also exactly reflects my view of the thing.

      One of my favorite Plain Blog comments.

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    6. Thanks, @csh. It's too bad it comes to this, but that's the reality, and people who ignore reality get run over.

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