Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Romney Says What?: Taxes Edition

Come on, Emily, shut UP about Romney and money already.  We're bored.  We'd so much rather be reading about the crazy Jackson family or Suri's custody status or Robsten imploding.  I know, I know.  I myself have been slightly fascinated by the bizzaro behavior of the Jackson clan (and feeling very sorry for the kids involved)...  But indulge me, because I actually think Romney is calling you and me stupid.

So I have been thinking about Romney's character, in the same way that I tend to think about the character of all politicians I think about.  I spent awhile in the 2008 election trying to figure out why Obama hadn't quit smoking once he had kids, for example.  One of the reasons I found The Presidents Club so fascinating is the excellent job that book did at illuminating the characters of the men involved (Carter?  Kind of came off as a preternaturally-driven, insecure, credit-grabber.  George HW Bush?  Came off as a really thoughtful, really smart guy and a pretty darn good father.  Nixon?  That guy was a brilliant strategist and to some degree an id walking around by itself, who was rewarded consistently throughout his life for bending and breaking all kinds of rules.  And laws.).  Seriously, go read or listen to it.  Then come talk to me about it.

But I digress.

I think Romney is a guy who wants - very badly - to be president.  Almost to the exclusion of caring - at all - what policy choices he makes.  One of the reasons I think he can't keep straight what he thinks and has said in the past is that I'm not sure he cares at all about any of it.

  • Abortion?  Eh, either way (btw it seems from that article like The Washington Post doesn't know that Romney supports a personhood amendment, which would outlaw all abortion).  

  • Gay rights?  Some of my best friends are undermining society by wanting to get married.  Or something.  

...These are some divisive issues.  Ones that people don't generally casually flip-flop on.

But Romney wants you to vote for him.  What would you like him to believe today?  

And now this tax return thing has got me kind of annoyed.  We all get it.  You're rich, Mitt.

You buy car elevators for some of your six houses and your wife "drives a couple of Cadillacs" (hopefully not at the same time) and you are friends with some of the people who own the sports teams we and our plebeian lot like to watch on the television whilst drinking substandard beer and wine.  Fine.  Bully for you.  We don't really care.  We aren't going to throw you the parade you seem to want for "succeeding" on the backs of other people, but we aren't trying to drag you to the guillotine, either, so stop acting all paranoid.

But what is the big deal about releasing your tax information?  Honestly, you've been running for president since 2007, surely you have considered the fact that people would expect you to release the same records that everybody releases on how you handle your finances, right?  I mean, your dad released 12 years of returns when he ran for president.  John McCain (whom Romney likes to cite and whom you may remember, owns a few houses himself) released 2 years of tax returns in 2008 - but he was the anomaly - he was the only candidate to release just two years of returns in 34 years.  So what's the big deal?

Then Harry Reid said that a Bain investor told him that Romney didn't pay any taxes for 10 or 12 years.  And now I'm even more intrigued.

One of the reasons I am intrigued is that Romney has said, time and again, that he is a better presidential candidate for not paying more taxes than were required of him.

To wit:

Muir: Was there ever any year when you paid lower than 13.9%? 
Romney: I haven’t calculated that. I’m happy to go back and look but my view is I’ve paid all the taxes required by law. From time to time I’ve been audited as happens I think to other citizens as well and the accounting firm which prepares my taxes has done a very thorough and complete job pay(ing) taxes as legally due. I don’t pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don’t think I’d be qualified to become president. I’d think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires. [Emphasis mine.]

Okay, so you're proud that you pay as little in taxes as possible.  In fact, you say that you think that's an asset for a presidential candidate, and that to do otherwise would be a disqualification for being president.  That's a pretty strong statement.

But if that statement is what you really believe (and I actually think, for once, that this IS what Romney really believes), why wouldn't you put out all of the tax returns you have - as an example of your superb financial dealings?  I, Mitt Romney, am not paying you bastards a penny more than I have to.

If that's what Romney believes, then there has to be some other reason that he won't release his tax returns (according to CNN's Erin Burnett, he could be sheltering more than he says, doing something shady, or being stupid, for example.  Columbia Law Tax Professor Michael Graetz posits that he could have been giving large, undervalued gifts to his sons)...  UNLESS, he knows that we do not agree with him.

Let's unpack what Romney's "nobody should pay a dime more in taxes than they are legally required" theory means.  Have you, for example, ever donated things to charity but forgone the form that would potentially get you a tax deduction for doing so?  Romney would say you are a fool.  I suspect in reality you might think that it's good for you - and for everybody - when you to donate things to charity: the stuff is out of your house, you don't need it anymore, somebody else does need it, and the items you donate will be reused, thereby making the donation a green decision, too.  That's only a stupid decision in a craven world where people do things solely for profit.

Taxes are not some generic fee one pays.  Taxes are the part of our money we give to our government.  OUR government.  U-S-A, U-S-A!  Those of us who aren't nickel-and-diming Uncle Sam aren't stupid.  And those of us who have to use our money to live and cannot shelter huge percentages of it in the Cayman Islands or Swiss bank accounts are not stupid for paying taxes on what we earn.

A note on tax policy: We treat money that rich people have better than money that regular people have.  We tax earned income (wages) at a higher rate, generally, than investment income.  Rich people usually make more in investment income than in wages.  Rich people get to use shelters and take large deductions for capital losses (stock market losses, for example).  Sure, in theory everybody could shelter money, but not if you don't have enough to set significant amounts of money aside.  And while if you lose your house because you can't pay your mortgage, you still have to pay taxes, if you lose a bunch of money in the stock market, you don't (if you handle it the right way).  So another theory bopping about is that maybe Romney didn't pay any taxes in 2009.  That would mean that while most people were struggling, Romney was "using every trick in the book," and even taking advantage of large tax benefits that he got for losing money in the stock market.  That would mean Romney wasn't paying taxes, while you were, in an economic downturn caused by greedy, speculative, risky economic behavior... largely by people with a lot of money.

That won't affect your vote, will it?

As George Will said, “The cost of not releasing the returns are clear.  Therefore, he must have calculated that there are higher costs in releasing them.”

1 comment:

  1. There's an update -