What does Romney's refusal to release his tax returns say about him?
The easiest thing to say about Mitt Romney's tax returns is that he should release them. Now, not in April. He can always supplement the document dump with his 2011 return when it's ready. Besides, by admitting that he is taxed at the 15% rate imposed on capital gains, he already has confirmed suspicions that he belongs to the much-reviled 1%. How much worse can the returns be? At this point he has the worst of both worlds: self-exposed as a fat cat and open to the charge of evasion.
The second easiest thing to say about the controversy is that it is more proof of Romney's political tone-deafness. After the offer of a $10,000 bet, the revelation that he once worried about pink slips, his admission that he liked to fire people (I know -- he was talking about insurance companies) and his suggestion that he didn't make much in speaker's fees ($370,000), you'd think he or his media advisors would think twice about saying or doing anything that would exacerbate what the Republicans call class envy, especially before a vital primary election. (They might also have contrived to leak to the media information about his generosity to the Mormon Church, though that might have been a mixed blessing with the evangelical vote.)
The real question is whether Romney's ineptitude says anything about his qualifications for president or the policies he would pursue in the White House. Somewhat. An understanding of the current political environment and care with language are important job requirements for a president. At least when Newt Gingrich offends people, he knows he's doing it. But what about the "out of touch" argument -- that Romney's wealth irredeemably disconnects him from ordinary people (like George H.W. Bush's ignorance of supermarket scanners) and, more provocatively, inclines him to positions like support for the lower capital-gains rate -- which benefits him?
This is trickier terrain. FDR and, to a lesser extent, JFK demonstrated that you can be rich and sensitive to the problems of the down-and-out. As for Romney's positions, armchair psychologists can attribute them to his privileged upbringing, but it's more likely that a) he actually believes in them or b) is pandering to Republicans more conservative than his secret self. You don't have to be rich to buy the argument that a lower tax rate on capital gains encourages investment and thereby uplifts the economy. Rich people have the same right to be wrong (and Republican) as the rest of us.
-- Michael McGough
Photo: Mitt Romney holds a campaign rally at Winthorp University in Rock Hill, South Carolina, on Jan. 18. Credit: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images