As everyone on the planet knows by now, Mitt Romney is not going to release more than one year of his tax returns.
And as every parent on the planet knows, there is nothing–nothing!–that will intensify children’s interest in something like being told they can’t see or do it. And come to think of it, adults have a similar tendency to fixate on what is seemingly out of reach.
In the last few days, we’ve had two examples of this phenomenon: hackers who claim they have obtained copies from PriceWaterhouseCooper have threatened to release the returns if they aren’t paid a ransom; and Larry Flynt (yes, he of Hustler ‘fame’) has offered a million dollars to anyone who will deliver the returns to him.
You’d think they’d get together….Maybe they still will.
These new efforts come on the heels of what may be the biggest political gambling operation outside Intrade–a robust market in rumors about what could possibly be so damaging in those returns. It is intriguing. Romney’s intransigence about his tax returns adds one more element to the shady public persona he has projected. (A Facebook friend recently asked “Is anyone else waiting for Romney to offer a great deal to put you into a 2012 Malibu?”) What can he be hiding that would hurt him more than the secrecy does?
It isn’t only the refusal to release his taxes. As the Presidential campaign goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that Romney’s entire strategy was to make the election a referendum on the incumbent. That wasn’t a bad idea; with the economy still sluggish, and many people still very uncomfortable with Mr. Obama’s perceived “otherness,” making the choice all about the President made some sense. (When you add in Mr. Romney’s own wooden demeanor and general lack of warmth and likability, it makes even more sense.)
Making the election about Obama does not relieve the Republicans of the duty to run an actual candidate. But that’s what they’ve done. Even the media–obsessed with the “horse race” and generally oblivious to policy–has complained about the absolute absence of specifics to back up the vague platitudes coming from the Romney-Ryan ticket. The message has been “fire Obama and we’ll do better,” but there has been no explanation of how–no description of the steps Romney would propose to take, or how his administration would differ from either Barack Obama’s or George W. Bush’s. We are left with “trust me.”
If you are going to center your campaign on a message that essentially says: “Voters, you need to fire the incumbent and replace him with a more trustworthy person who is a better manager,” then at an absolute minimum you at least need to demonstrate that you are that trustworthy, competent person. You can’t also ask us to take your own character and capacity on trust. But that is exactly what Romney is doing by refusing to release his tax returns.
He is asking voters to fire Obama and hire an empty suit.
Whatever is in those tax returns must really be damaging.