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?
Yes, it does take a certain courage, even daring, to bring off that kind of counterpunch. But if there's anything embarrassing in those records, the candidate will find the American people far more forgiving of a politician's mistakes than of his trying to hide them.
Note how Paul Ryan, who's about to be nominated for vice president of the United States, not only has a fiscal program but a talent for honest confession.
It seems that, in the course of explaining why this administration's economic stimulus didn't stimulate as promised, Congressman Ryan slipped up and told a television interviewer, that, no, he himself had never asked for a handout for any businesses in his district as part of the president's stimulus package. Actually, it turns out his office had sent a couple of form letters to the U.S. Energy Department doing just that. And he promptly fessed up.
Do the candid thing
Those requests from local businesses, Ryan explained, “were treated as constituent service requests in the same way matters involving Social Security or Veteran Affairs are handled. This is why I didn't recall the letters earlier. But they should have been handled differently, and I take responsibility for that.” Mistake confessed, matter closed. It's unlikely we'll hear any more about it. See how simple the honorable course can be?
Romney should follow Paul Ryan's lead and do the candid thing. Then he can get back to doing what he does best: not just talking about jobs but creating them. And conducting his biggest financial turnaround yet, namely that of the United States of America.
TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES