Mitt Romney has said he will release and make public a total of two years of income-tax returns. It looks as if the Obamaites will have a collective fit if he doesn’t release more. I say let ’em.
These tax-return demands are just one of the ways politics gives us an excuse for doing what we could not otherwise get away with.
An adult watching movies every day during daylight hours would be frowned upon (unless he were a movie critic). A middle-aged man poring over reams of pornographic material would be ostracized (unless he were a judge hearing a case about that subject matter). But a political race allows us, as “concerned citizens,” to consume information about what a candidate did with his lunch money in junior high, as well as whom his wife dated when she was a teenager.
As far as perennial guilty political pleasures go, none has achieved a greater and more predictable status than reviewing the tax return.
Politicians, especially those who have spent their adult life on a government salary, demand that their opponents disgorge their financial records and returns, preferably going back as far as that first suspect lemonade stand. The press invariably joins in the hounding. They demand to know, for example, how much the candidate gave away to charitable organizations. Giving to strangers, you see, rather than giving generously without the advantage of a tax write-off to loved ones in need or other individuals who may need assistance, reveals the size of one’s heart (unless you are Joe Biden).
But, mainly, the demand is made because candidates (rich ones especially) need to demonstrate that they have paid their “fair share” in taxes. What is a “fair share”? Never mind. That’s for the press corps and the opposition to decide. A person could have paid more in taxes than a gymnasium full of his detractors and it still would not be enough if he has made “too much” money in comparison with his tax bill. Also, never mind that, unlike the case of the common criminal, the burden is placed on the candidate to prove his innocence.
A tax return can reveal that a taxpayer (slightly over 50 percent of Americans, nowadays) has followed the law, paid all required taxes, and has done nothing improper or that his worse critics wouldn’t have done. Yet, in skilled hands, that tax return can be used as a hammer with which to beat a candidate over the head.