Commentary Magazine


Topic: tax returns

The Obama Campaign’s Shameless Response to Romney’s Tax Returns

There continues to be a lively debate about whether Mitt Romney’s decision to release decades of information on his tax returns—which definitively proved false Harry Reid’s dishonest accusations from the Senate floor—will be strategically beneficial to the campaign. But it cannot be said that we didn’t know exactly how the Obama campaign would respond. Romney surely must have been aware that the shamelessness of the Obama campaign and its allies would persist—and in fact has reached new lows by attacking Romney for paying more in taxes than he had to.

Earlier in the campaign, the Obama camp taunted Romney with a public letter asking for five years of tax returns and promising they would not ask for more. I wrote at the time:

What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies “outside” the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.

Within 24 hours, the Obama campaign fulfilled what I must admit was among the easiest predictions to make. First, the campaign, according to Politico:

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There continues to be a lively debate about whether Mitt Romney’s decision to release decades of information on his tax returns—which definitively proved false Harry Reid’s dishonest accusations from the Senate floor—will be strategically beneficial to the campaign. But it cannot be said that we didn’t know exactly how the Obama campaign would respond. Romney surely must have been aware that the shamelessness of the Obama campaign and its allies would persist—and in fact has reached new lows by attacking Romney for paying more in taxes than he had to.

Earlier in the campaign, the Obama camp taunted Romney with a public letter asking for five years of tax returns and promising they would not ask for more. I wrote at the time:

What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies “outside” the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.

Within 24 hours, the Obama campaign fulfilled what I must admit was among the easiest predictions to make. First, the campaign, according to Politico:

Why were more than 65% of pages related to overseas investments? Why did he have investments in a Chinese oil company? Why did he have dozens of foreign accounts and million stashed away in tax havens like the Caymans? [Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen] Psaki asked, according to a pool report.

But how do you criticize as secretive or dishonest a man who gave millions to charity and more to the government than he legally had to? Ladies and gentlemen, the majority leader of the United States Senate:

The information released today reveals that Mitt Romney manipulated one of the only two years of tax returns he’s seen fit to show the American people – and then only to ‘conform’ with his public statements. That raises the question: what else in those returns has Romney manipulated?

You almost can’t blame Reid for behaving this way. His fellow Democrats refuse to rein him in, and the media—which would be losing its mind if it were a Republican behaving this way—prefers to ignore it. He’s been given no reason to drop his inappropriate behavior.

This has been the general tone of the weekend. On ABC’s This Week, George Stephanopoulos asked David Axelrod if the Obama campaign would now turn from the tax returns to more serious topics, and Axelrod practically laughed at the question. No, there would be no Obama pivot to the issues.

Ironically, Stephanopoulos introduced a segment later in the show with a clip from the television show “The West Wing” in which the Democratic incumbent president’s staff decides their side is going to “raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy”—though Stephanopoulos said that this must be Romney’s, not Obama’s, strategy going forward. On that, he appears to be correct. If the level of public discourse is going to be raised in this election, it will be on Romney to do so; the Obama campaign has politely—and sometimes not so politely—declined to participate in such a debate.

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DC Gimmickry Is All Romney’s Fault

Seth Mandel wrote this morning regarding the Obama campaign letter to Romney offering not to ask for more if he releases five years’ worth of  tax returns, “What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies ‘outside’ the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.”

Robert Gibbs, Obama campaign senior advisor and former White House press secretary, on Fox News Sunday yesterday morning, confirmed that almost in so many words. He said,

And I think if Mitt Romney proposes to be president of the United States and lead us through tax reform, shouldn’t the American people understand the offshoring and the outsourcing, and the tax havens that he takes advantage of in his tax return and understand how those values would govern the tax reform decisions he might make as president?

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Seth Mandel wrote this morning regarding the Obama campaign letter to Romney offering not to ask for more if he releases five years’ worth of  tax returns, “What the Obama campaign letter meant, of course, is that they will criticize Romney for whatever they find in those five years of tax returns relentlessly, while their allies ‘outside’ the campaign, like Harry Reid, continue to attack the Romney campaign—uncoordinated, they swear!—for not releasing more.”

Robert Gibbs, Obama campaign senior advisor and former White House press secretary, on Fox News Sunday yesterday morning, confirmed that almost in so many words. He said,

And I think if Mitt Romney proposes to be president of the United States and lead us through tax reform, shouldn’t the American people understand the offshoring and the outsourcing, and the tax havens that he takes advantage of in his tax return and understand how those values would govern the tax reform decisions he might make as president?

I have no doubt that Mitt Romney takes advantage of every one of the deductions, credits, havens, and what-have-yous in the tax code that minimize his tax obligation. So does everyone else, including, surely, Robert Gibbs and Barack Obama. After all, that’s what why Congress put those provisions in the tax code: to be taken advantage of. So what possible use could the Obama campaign have for the specific information except to use it for demagogic purposes and to stir up envy of economic success fairly earned?

Mitt Romney, after all,  has never held a federal job. So how, exactly is he responsible for the special interest tax fiddles with which the tax code is riddled? Isn’t that the fault of Congress, which amends the tax code hundreds, sometimes thousands, of times a year with obscure provisions most of which benefit only the well-connected few?

And why should the corruption of Congress have corrupted Mitt Romney, and “govern his tax reform decisions?” Gibbs here is essentially accusing Romney of a priori misfeasance.

 

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Romney Rejects Obama Tax Return Request

After accusing Mitt Romney of being a tax cheat failed to get results, the Obama campaign has written an open letter to Mitt Romney asking very nicely to see the last five years of his tax returns. Maybe they should have tried this approach in the first place. At this point, it’s hard to blame the Romney campaign for telling them to take a hike:

“Thanks for the note,” [Romney campaign manager Matt] Rhoades wrote. “It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”

Rhoades wrote that Messina and his campaign could continue talking about Romney’s tax returns – but that his team would focus on the economy.

“If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days,” Rhoades wrote. “In the meantime, Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy.”

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After accusing Mitt Romney of being a tax cheat failed to get results, the Obama campaign has written an open letter to Mitt Romney asking very nicely to see the last five years of his tax returns. Maybe they should have tried this approach in the first place. At this point, it’s hard to blame the Romney campaign for telling them to take a hike:

“Thanks for the note,” [Romney campaign manager Matt] Rhoades wrote. “It is clear that President Obama wants nothing more than to talk about Governor Romney’s tax returns instead of the issues that matter to voters, like putting Americans back to work, fixing the economy and reining in spending.”

Rhoades wrote that Messina and his campaign could continue talking about Romney’s tax returns – but that his team would focus on the economy.

“If Governor Romney’s tax returns are the core message of your campaign, there will be ample time for President Obama to discuss them over the next 81 days,” Rhoades wrote. “In the meantime, Governor Romney will continue to lay out his plans for a stronger middle class, to save Medicare, to put work back into welfare, and help the 23 million Americans struggling to find work in the Obama economy.”

Rhoades’ point about Obama wanting to make the tax returns the top election issue is probably spot-on. Obviously Romney has no intention of releasing his tax returns, or else he would have done it already. The only chance the Obama campaign has of getting those documents is if the media pressure forces Romney into it. But with the media tsk-tsking the Obama campaign’s mudslinging, and the Romney campaign acting righteously indignant over Harry Reid’s accusations, a polite open letter is the only way it can hope to get any results.

Is this a sign the Obama campaign is going to lay low with the over-the-top attacks for a while? Or just a last-ditch effort from a campaign that’s running out of ways to change the subject?

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