Mitt’s Tax Test

Mitt Romney’s failure to release his tax returns is a self-inflicted wound — and a missed opportunity.

It’s hard to believe that Romney didn’t understand that when you run for President, you check your privacy at the door.  People have come to expect that candidates for office will release their tax returns.  It’s consistent with the notions of transparency that prevail in our modern democratic culture, and allows journalists and interested parties to explore whether the candidate has been involved in sweetheart deals or shady actions or affiliations with questionable organizations.

Romney’s concern about his tax returns doesn’t seem to have anything to do with those kinds of issues.  Instead, it seems like he is worried that his tax returns will show that he has been too successful, is too wealthy, and — because most of his money is made from investments — he doesn’t pay enough in taxes.  If so, why is he embarrassed about that?  If Romney wants to base his campaign on a full-throated defense of capitalism he should be loud and proud about his success, about the positive returns his investments have garnered, and the fact that he has paid precisely the amount of taxes that federal law requires.  If people want to argue that he should have paid more, use the moment as an opportunity to teach about the benefits of low tax rates on investments.

Unless Romney’s tax returns show that he has been the main supporter of the Coven of the Satanic Overlord or a card-carrying member of the North Korean ruling junta, he should release the returns, pronto.  Success in our economy shouldn’t be the source of shame, particularly for somebody who says he will use his campaign to stand up for free markets and the benefits of capitalism.  As it now stands, his hems and haws implicitly communicate that wealth is somehow a source of guilt — which is not exactly the message he is trying to convey.

The Real Lesson In Perry’s Departure

Yesterday Texas Governor Rick Perry ended his race for the Republican nomination for President.  His brief campaign started with a bang and ended with a whimper — his departure wasn’t even the top news story on a day that featured stories about open marriages and another debate — but it’s worth some reflection.

When Perry came into the race a few months ago he was viewed as a formidable contender.  Why not?  He is the popular, long-standing governor of one of our largest states.  Moreover, Texas’ economic and job-creation performance has been a bright spot during the recent economic doldrums.  Perry seemed like a candidate who could present a sharp contrast with President Obama on the job and economic issues that are the primary concerns of most Americans.

Alas for Governor Perry, he just wasn’t ready for a presidential campaign.  His stumbling performances in debates caused his poll numbers to shrivel to insignificance and led his potential supporters to look elsewhere.  He seemed unsteady, and never could gain traction.  The spotlight quickly moved on to others, and by the end of his campaign, Perry had become almost an irrelevant figure.

Perry’s rise and fall shows that running for President is different in kind, and not just in degree, from other political races.  The intensity of media scrutiny and criticism, the crucial role of capable staffing and planning, the paramount need to respond quickly and forcefully to missteps or changed circumstances — all of these distinguish a presidential campaign from, say, a governor’s race in your home state.

The story of Rick Perry is one that every potential candidate for President should consider before they make the decision to run.  Seeking the presidency is brutal.  Are they truly ready, where he wasn’t?

Making Hard Budget Choices: Time To Finish Head Start

There may be no federal program that was begun with better intentions than Head Start.  It was a key part of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society initiatives and had an ambitious social engineering goal:  to help impoverished kids better prepare themselves for school and a useful life by providing them with preschool.

It is now 45 years later, and the Department of Health and Human Services has released its Head Start Impact Study.  The Study results are clear — Head Start does not work.  The Study found that the positive effects of the Head Start program are minimal and vanish entirely after children reach first grade.  Graduates of Head Start perform about the same as students of the same income and social status who did not participate in Head Start.  In short, we pay $7 billion a year for a program that doesn’t do what it is supposed to do.

In any rational world, the next step would be obvious.  We would end the program and save the $7 billion.  This is modern America, however, so of course that hasn’t happened.  Instead, the defenders of Head Start argue that even if it doesn’t work, it provides money and employment in depressed areas and should be maintained as a jobs program.  The Obama Administration says it is going to funnel the money to more effective programs rather than ending it outright.

Our budget problems are enormous and can only be addressed if every program, tax break, subsidy, and government job is potentially on the chopping block.  If a government program isn’t working, it should be ended, period.  We shouldn’t hesitate to cut defense weapons systems that aren’t performing as designed, or to end subsidies that no longer make rational economic or policy sense.

If we really were serious about tackling our budget problems, Congress would already have digested the Head Start Impact Study and decided to end the program.  Usually there is at least grounds for disagreement about the effectiveness of a federal program, but in this case a government-commissioned study is conclusive about the program’s failure.  What are we waiting for?

Making Hard Budget Choices:  A No Doubt Boring Look At NHTSA