His opponents and the press are turning up the heat and even one of his big-name supporters has publicly called on him to give in, but Mitt Romney is adamantly refusing to release new information about his taxes.
If this story line sounds familiar, it should: Romney was in a very similar spot six months ago, and it didn’t take him long to fold.
It was back in January that Romney tried to duck calls to release tax records, believing he could run out the clock at least until he’d secured the Republican nomination. But his personal finances were becoming an issue, with Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry depicting him as a “vulture capitalist” and stoking resentment among working-class Republicans, and his opponents suggested that Romney might be concealing embarrassing and politically damaging information.
“Listen,” Perry said in a debate just before the South Carolina primary, “here’s the real issue for us as Republicans: We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now.”
Perry didn’t survive South Carolina, but when Romney was trounced by Gingrich, the pressure to release his taxes grew. In a debate, Romney was confronted with the example of his own father, who had released 12 years of returns in the run-up to his own 1968 presidential bid, explaining at the time that “one year could be a fluke.” Asked if he’d follow his father’s lead, Romney was evasive, prompting loud jeers and taunts from the live audience. The tax story was taking on a life of its own; even Chris Christie, one of Romney’s top primary season supporters, piped up to say that the candidate should produce his returns.
Finally, a week before Florida’s Jan. 31 primary, Romney gave in, releasing his 2010 returns and an estimate for 2011. It wasn’t nearly as comprehensive as what his father did, but it was something – and it became readily apparent why he’d been so reluctant. Among other things, the records showed that Romney had made $45 million in income over the past two years, even though he wasn’t actually working, and that his effective tax rate for 2010 had been just 13.9 percent. Investments in Swiss bank accounts and offshore holdings in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda were also revealed.
There was also the matter of speaking fees. Before releasing his returns, Romney had hinted that he paid a low effective tax rate, explaining that most of his income over the last 10 years had come from investments (which are subject to a 15 percent tax rate) and noting that “I get speakers fees from time to time, but not very much.” But it turned out he’d actually taken in $347,327.62 in speaking money from February 2010 to February 2011 alone, making the episode another “wealth gaffe” for Romney.
This wasn’t enough to stop Romney from winning his party’s nomination. His main competition came from Gingrich and Rick Santorum, so it would have taken a lot more to sink him. But it suggests a similar cave-in may be just around the corner now, with Romney’s taxes once again becoming a major issue.
The impetus this time is a series of media reports examining Romney’s complicated personal finances and raising questions about how much money he has parked offshore, and why. The Obama campaign has taken the new reporting and run with it, demanding that Romney release multiple years of tax records (and taunting him with the example of his own father). The official Romney line, of course, is that there’s nothing to see here and that he’s already provided ample disclosure, but not every Republican is reading from the same script. On Sunday, for instance, Haley Barbour said he’d release more information if he were in Romney’s shoes.
It’s hard to believe there’s anything in Romney’s tax history as sinister as some Democrats are suggesting. But it’s also hard to believe that if Romney were to release records for more years they wouldn’t feature the same sort of embarrassing revelations found in his 2010 return. Obviously, this is something his campaign would like to avoid. But as the story of Romney’s refusal gains traction, the Romney team may be faced with a new calculation: Is there more harm in looking like you’re hiding something than in just putting the information out there, suffering through a news cycle or two, and moving on?
Actually, in a way, there may be no harm at all for Romney in releasing more tax records. The Obama team already has all the material it needs to paint him as the Swiss bank account guy. At least this way, they won’t be able to say he’s the Swiss bank account guy who’s hiding something.
By: Steve Kornacki, Salon, July 11, 2012
A newspaper will make you sign your name to a letter-to-the-editor so that you take ownership of the content and consequences of your 250-word rant against the injustices of the age. But when billionaire oil and gas tycoons sign their names to $250 million campaign donations, you and I have no right to know what favors their favoritism might have bought, or even who they are.
Or so says Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. In a recent Washington Post op-ed warning of “the dangers disclosure can pose to free speech,” McConnell turns democracy on its head when he writes of the “alarming harassment and intimidation” being waged by the Obama administration in its attempt “to single out its critics” by using the FCC, IRS, SEC and even the Department of Health and Human Services as partisan enforcers to “silence” those who support causes and positions different from its own.
Gracious. You’d think from the frenzied tone of McConnell’s urgent admonition that Democrats had proposed using the NSA to spy on Republicans without FISA Court warrants, or to rendition them off to some secret prison where Moveon.org operatives would water-board Republicans in violation of the Geneva Convention into telling all they knew about Karl Rove’s evil designs over at Crossroads GPS. You’d never suspect from what McConnell has to say that what Democratic proponents of a federal Disclose Act really have in mind is the seditious idea that million-dollar campaign donors should be publicly accountable just like everyone else.
It’s true, concedes McConnell, just as Post columnist Ruth Marcus says, that he introduced a constitutional amendment in 1987 to put spending limits on self-funded millionaires. But that was then and this is now and, besides, everyone is entitled to make a mistake.
The punitive boycotts of their businesses that reactionary billionaires might face if the public caught wind they were bankrolling unpopular politicians or causes is no different, argues McConnell (ludicrously) from the chilling effect on political activity that groups like the NAACP endured during the Jim Crow 1950s, when the State of Alabama demanded the civil rights group make public its membership list, presumably so that local Ku Klux Klansmen could more easily target NAACP members for nailing to some tree.
McConnell’s backward ideas about free speech are no less radical than the peculiar ideas he has about governing, learned no doubt as a young lad sitting at the knees of those white-suited Kentucky Colonels while they sipped their bourbons and mint juleps and sneered at the unwashed masses as they rocked on their plantation’s front porches.
For we already know that McConnell’s response to the Republican Party’s loss of the White House and its shrinkage in the US Senate to just 40 members was to use the GOP’s dwindling minority to vacate the verdict of two national elections by doing everything in their power to prevent the Democrat’s duly-elected national majority from governing.
As the New York Times reported in 2010, even before President Obama took office, McConnell had a strategy for his party: “Use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.”
On nearly every major issue, McConnell used the Senate filibuster to essentially institutionalize minority rule by holding Republican defections “to somewhere between minimal and nonexistent,” says the Times. This allowed McConnell “to slow the Democratic agenda if not defeat aspects of it.”
When Democrats refused to capitulate to Republican obstructionism, McConnell accused them of “being inflexible,” says the Times. And when Democrats cleverly found ways around McConnell’s procedural obstacles he accused them of “arrogantly circumventing the American people.”
That is what McConnell did when President Obama broke a GOP blockade and appointed a director of the Consumer Financial Protection Board Republicans were determined to keep vacant after being unable to (democratically) prevent the agency from being created in the first place.
According to McConnell’s imperious presumptions, the Republican minority has the right to unilaterally overrule the decision of the duly-elected President of the United States and both houses of Congress by preventing a consumer protection bureau created to protect the American people against Wall Street abuses from doing its work. Therefore, according to McConnell, when the President staffs the agency so it can do the job Congress has authorized it to do, it’s somehow the President who has “arrogantly circumvented” the Constitution and the American people.
“Seriously?” asks an incredulous James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly. “This kind of thing needs to be called out for what it is: nonsense.”
We can’t yet know the full consequence of McConnell’s obstructionism. But one result we do know is that Republicans may lose a once safe seat in the Senate after Maine Senator Olympia Snowe shook the political establishment last February by announcing she would be retiring after this term. The cover story was that Snowe was fed up with “partisanship” in general. But Snowe isn’t quitting because “partisanship” in Congress had become too much for her. She’s quitting because the Republican Party has.
As her cousin, Georgia Chomas, said: social conservatives and Tea Party activists had been hounding Snowe at her home in Maine while party leaders in Washington had been ignoring the issues she cared most about. “There was a constant, constant struggle to accommodate everyone, and a lot of pressure on her from the extreme right,” said Chomas, “And she just can’t go there.”
What we have with McConnell’s obscene definition of “free speech” is not a mechanism by which a free people governs itself but rather an imagined privilege for right wing billionaires to manipulate the political process behind the scenes, in secret, and outside the bounds of customary disclosure and accountability. It is another example of reactionary elements using the rights guaranteed to them by our liberal democracy to undermine the liberal democratic regime itself.
A better understanding of free speech and why it is valued “as a method of attaining moral and political truth” is provided by Walter Lippmann. In his Essays in the Public Philosophy, Lippmann lists free speech among those “traditions of civility” which support self-government itself. But it is not just any speech that Lippmann defends, or which the Founding Fathers enshrined in our First Amendment, but speech “conceived as the means to a confrontation of opinion.”
The classic defense of freedom of speech comes from John Milton who, in 1644′s Areopagitica, asks; “Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
But it is a free and open encounter, says Lippmann in his typically high-minded way, that must never be treated “as a trial of strength” but rather as “a means of elucidation.”
In his wonderful new book, Our Divided Political Heart, E.J. Dionne, Jr., devotes an entire chapter to the idea that America is “One Nation, Conceived in Argument.”
But for speech to be truly “free” it must also be open to rebuttal and refutation, says Lippmann, for when genuine debate is lacking freedom of speech does not work since “unrestricted utterance leads to the degradation of opinion.”
It is sophistry, says Lippmann, “to pretend that in a free country a man has some sort of inalienable or constitutional right to deceive his fellow men. There is no more right to deceive than there is a right to swindle, to cheat, or to pick pockets.”
But that is exactly what many conservatives do claim today when they insist on the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which is why its elimination has been so destructive of the kind of debate Lippmann says is central to the proper working of democracies.
The discarding of the long-standing requirement that access to the public’s airwaves meant giving equal time to opposing points of view, gives to demagogues like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and (fill in the name of your favorite “leftist” broadcaster here) three or four hours of uninterrupted air time each day to inject their unchallenged poison directly into our politics, where as Lippmann says the “chaff of silliness, baseness and deception” can become so “voluminous” that it “submerges the kernels of truth” and produces such “frivolity” and “mischief” that free speech can no longer be preserved against those who “demand for a restoration of order or of decency.”
If there is a dividing line between liberty and license, says Lippmann, “it is where freedom of speech is no longer respected as a procedure of the truth and becomes the unrestricted right to exploit the ignorance and incite the passions of the people. Then freedom is such a hullabaloo of sophistry, propaganda, special pleading, lobbying and salesmanship that it is difficult to remember why freedom of speech is worth the pain and trouble of defending it.”
Fabrications and falsehoods are not expressions of freedom but applications of brute force. And where truth is unable to confront error in a live debate – as it cannot do on conservative talk radio unlimited by the Fairness Doctrine or in the negative advertising purchased by the billionaires McConnell means to keep nameless and faceless — then “some regulation is necessary” in order to reestablish that element of “confrontation” upon which the “right” to free speech is predicated, says Lippmann.
Conservatives once swore by the magical properties of “competition.” Yet, how characteristic of Mitch McConnell that his distorted view of political speech is so perfectly aligned with the diseased view he has of the American Republic he hopes to create, one in which a cabal of wealthy oligarchs are given a blank check in the name of “freedom” to deploy their over-sized financial resources in order to suffocate whatever democratic impulses still beat in America today.
By: Ted Frier, Open Salon Blog, July 11, 2012
The House Republicans are going to vote today to repeal the ACA, and the message they’re going to be sending to people who have cancer or diabetes or any number of other diseases but don’t have insurance is simple, and forgive my bluntness in this non-family newspaper where such language, I’m given to understand, is occasionally permisslbe. The message is: Fuck off.
Matt Miller put the matter powerfully in his Post column yesterday:
Here’s what you should do, Mr. President. In the debates this fall, pull out a small laminated card you’ve had made as a prop for this purpose. Then remind Mitt Romney that the ranks of the uninsured today are equal to the combined populations of Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Kansas, Kentucky, Arkansas, Utah, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, Vermont and Wyoming.
Read that list slowly, Mr. President. Then ask your opponent: Would America turn its back on the citizens of these 25 states if everyone there lacked basic health coverage? That’s what we’ve been doing for decades. You knew it was right to act when you were governor of Massachusetts, Mitt. How can you pretend we don’t need to solve this for the nation? And how can you object with a straight face when your own pioneering plan was my model?
Can I get an amen to that? And then he might add something like, “As you said many times yourself, Governor, the point of requiring people to buy insurance is to instill a sense of personal responsibility. No free riders. No trips to the emergency room that the rest of us pay for. Why did you believe in personal responsibility then but are against it now?”
I swear, as I noted yesterday, this is starting to smell to me like an issue the Democrats can win votes on this fall. Believe me, if I thought the opposite, I’d say so. I did think the opposite just a few weeks ago. What changed?
John Roberts, basically. Politically, his signing on to the decision lends a bulletproofness to the Democratic position, changes the whole mentality of the debate. If it had been Kennedy with the liberals, meh. But Roberts’ stamp of approval on the plan allows the Democrats some room to play offense. And that offense is built around one simple claim: Republicans would deny coverage to sick people and let them die.
Sprinkling a little personal responsibility sugar on top can’t hurt. Use their blind extremism against them. Here is a position that was once theirs, that they came up with and that they’ve now abandoned, just because Obama took it up. It’s a great marker of how radical and anti-thought they’ve become, that they’re now willing to let people suffer and die in the hopes that they can defeat a political adversary.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, July 11, 2012
I would hardly characterize President Barack Obama’s proposal as a “gambit.” The proposal has been a consistent theme with this administration, which recognizes that Americans want the president to focus on the issues that affect them most—how to create jobs, provide opportunities to advance, and secure a better future for their children.
On Monday, President Obama laid out a vision for the fiscal policies he will pursue to ensure for a better tomorrow—offering additional middle-class tax cuts while asking some to pay a little more. Some might call it risky or foolish to ask to raise taxes during an election, but I believe the American people are often ahead of politicians in understanding what is fair, what works, and want to be offered a choice. For the eight years of “Bushonomics,” those in the middle class got a clear picture of what didn’t work as they lost their jobs, their incomes shrunk, and their homes were devalued or lost while corporate profits rose and executive pay increased.
In the latest National Journal/United Technologies poll, 60 percent favored extending tax cuts for those making $250,000 and below. They understand that economic growth will not come from more failed trickle-down economic theories, but instead by responsibly balancing the need to cut spending, increase revenue, and make sound investments in our future, especially in areas like education, new market development, and infrastructure.
In contrast, Mitt Romney continues to offer ideas that advance little meaningful change and instead, a return to the failed policies from the past of cutting taxes for those who can most afford them, while exploding the deficit, increasing our future debt obligations, and leaving no means to invest in growth.
The president’s proposal, along with an offer to discuss real tax reform after the election, put Republicans back on the defensive and elevated the debate to a referendum for the American voter in November—49 percent of independents in a recent Washington Post poll said the president’s vision for the future is more important to them than what he did in his first term. By proactively controlling the debate and focusing the attention on the “do-nothing” Congress and Romney’s policies of the past, the president will continue to look like the true leader and that is a winning formula. Focusing on America’s future is Obama’s strength and greatest political weapon.
By: Penny Lee, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, July 11, 2012
On Wednesday morning Mitt Romney addressed the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. In most recent years Republican presidents and candidates have avoided speaking to the NAACP. That makes sense, since they oppose civil rights.
But Romney is pursuing the ricochet pander approach to the general election that George W. Bush laid out in 2000. He pretends to reach out to blacks and Latinos, but the real purpose is making white suburban soccer moms feel like they are not intolerant if they vote for him. That’s why he released an education agenda that mimics much of Bush’s education rhetoric about offering a fair shot to disadvantaged youth.
Unfortunately, Romney did not tell the truth in his speech on Wednesday. Consider this key section:
The opposition charges that I and people in my party are running for office to help the rich. Nonsense. The rich will do just fine whether I am elected or not. The President wants to make this a campaign about blaming the rich. I want to make this a campaign about helping the middle class.
I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle-class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor. My campaign is about helping the people who need help.
This is simply a lie. It is a demonstrable fact that Romney’s economic policies—cutting taxes on the rich and cutting spending on programs that aid the poor—is designed to help the rich get even richer. Now, Romney may subscribe to the discredited supply side theory that ultimately increasing wealth at the top will increase investment and generate economic growth that lowers unemployment. But there is no question he is running for office to help the rich. (If you don’t believe me, read today’s analysis of Romney’s tax plans from Wall Street veteran Henry Blodget.)
In his remarks Romney emphasized his education reform plan, something he has almost never talked about since he announced it. Rather than showing that he is serious about improving social mobility, this reaffirms that he is simply copying the Bush playbook on how to pretend you care about poor urban children while promising to cut programs they depend on, such as Medicaid.
The rest of Romney’s speech was the same pitch he makes to every group: the economy is stagnant, and I will grow it. You could do a find-and-replace for “Latinos,” “women,” “African-Americans” or, for that matter, “Inuits” and his speech would be the same.
There is no question that the economic downturn has been especially hard on black families. But Romney seems to either not know or not care that people have other political interests besides macroeconomic indicators. The NAACP was set up to advocate for legal equality for African-Americans. The last Republican president, George W. Bush, eviscerated legal protections against racial discrimination. His Equal Employment Opportunity Commission only concerned itself with “reverse discrimination” while he appointed federal judges who are hostile to civil rights. Will Romney do the same? He did not say.
Nor did Romney have anything to say about the fact that his own church, in which he became a prominent leader, openly discriminated against blacks until 1978. Romney never, to anyone’s knowledge, did anything to condemn the Mormon Church’s racism. The only thing he is reported to have ever said about it was that he thought it rude of other schools to boycott playing Brigham Young University in sports as an objection Mormonism’s racist policies. In other words, he was against using a classic device of the civil rights movement, a boycott, to promote integration.
No wonder he did not want to discuss civil rights on Wednesday. But the least he could have done is told the truth about his economic agenda.
By: Ben Adler, The Nation, July 11, 2012