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.