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Paul Greenberg: Mitt Romney vs. Paul Ryan on how to handle critics

BY PAUL GREENBERG Published: August 25, 2012

Mitt Romney is about to accept his party's presidential nomination in a shower of — no, not confetti and red-white-and-blue balloons — but questions about his taxes. Naturally, he complains that all this ginned-up furor over his personal finances is just a distraction from real issues facing the country, mainly the sluggish state of the economy and persistent unemployment. And says he'd really like to get back to talking about substance.

But if these demands that he release more of his tax returns are just a distraction, whose fault is that? Not just the opposition's. The duty of an opposition, after all, is to oppose. And, in this case, to raise every doubt it can about a rival presidential candidate and see if any stick.

There's no vetting process quite as long and thorough as an American presidential campaign. Even if some of the interrogators, like Dirty Harry Reid, the Nevada mudslinger, and the president himself for that matter, haven't exactly raised the level of American politics by trying to turn this year's presidential campaign into an IRS audit.

As tiring and tiresome as it may be, this kind of close inspection, which might even lead to some welcome introspection on a presidential candidate's part, is both necessary and useful. Because you can never tell what it'll turn up. Sometimes it is something substantial. And if such questions are ignored and allowed to fester, they can have devastating repercussions — repercussions from which a presidential campaign may not recover.

Why not steal a march on the opposition and release not just a couple of years of old tax returns, but five or 10 years of them, and be done with it? What could those old records contain worse than what the president's re-election campaign would like all of us to imagine?

The best way for a politician to respond to demands for information from critics is to drown them in data, giving them even more documents than they asked for, leaving them (and the rest of us) more bored than suspicious. Honesty isn't just the best policy for idealistic reasons but for very practical ones. Why not beat the critics to the punch?

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