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August 07, 2012


Nice column. I really like the color coded analysis of the articles.

Small point: Brendan wrote:
One angle of attack is Romney’s refusal to provide tax returns before 2010, which breaks a longstanding norm in presidential politics.

This is incorrect, according to Bob Somerby.

In 2008, Candidate McCain released only two years of his tax returns. Even that release was of limited value, since the McCain family’s extensive wealth was accounted for in his wife’s tax returns. (The McCains file separate returns.)...

In 2004, Candidate Kerry released a boatload of tax returns. But in that case, the family's truly gigantic wealth was in his wife's tax returns.

(The Kerrys are generally reported to be far wealthier than the Romneys.)

Here too, Robinson's paper insisted that Teresa Heinz Kerry release her returns; like Cindy McCain, she refused. In the end, she released short summaries for two years of returns, as Cindy McCain later did.

Fair point. I do think "norm" is an accurate description, but that means compliance is not mandatory (as in the McCain and Kerry cases). 

It is interesting how norms change. In the 1984 campaign, Geraldine Ferraro released her Form 1040 but not the supporting schedules. The reason was almost certainly that tax shelters are structured as partnerships (so the losses can be passed through). The line item on the Form 1040 nets out partnership gains and losses. If she'd released her Schedule E, people would have seen that she and her developer husband were participating in the kinds of tax shelters Democrats were lambasting in those days, which also meant that their actual cash flow was greater than one would otherwise surmise from the return (because shelters were typically largely funded by borrowed money). And who in the media caught this bit of legerdemain and demanded Ms. Ferraro release her full returns? Nobody.

Another changed norm: now Democrats want Romney to release twelve years of returns. When Barack Obama ran in 2008, he released eight years of returns. Why are the "norms" different for Romney? Because by now, Obama has twelve years of returns public--the eight he released in 2008 and the four since then.

It's all entertaining, as all horserace stories are, but let's keep our eye on the ball: the cynical attempt by the Obama campaign and its "independent" supporters to smear Romney as an evil rich guy (the kind of guy who doesn't even care that he let someone's wife die of cancer). What we need is a behind the scenes story on how Obama manages to look himself in the face every morning as he shaves.

It's worth thinking about why Romney's income tax returns are a bigger story than Obama's academic records. In my years in management, I never asked to see anyone's income tax return, nor was I ever asked for one. An income tax return would have told me nothing about the candidate's likely performance as an employee. As I recall, some scholarship applications did ask for an income tax return (or some portion thereof), to verify need. Even in those cases, one year's return sufficed.

OTOH I routinely asked about college grades for entry level employees. The HR Dept. sometimes checked transcripts to verify an applicant's degrees.

Bush's mediocre college grades played a significant role in 2000 -- supposedly showing how dumb he is. Reagan's "C" average was widely discussed. The media seldom pointed out that Gore's undergraduate performance was comparable to Bush's. Nor did they mention that Bush's post-graduate performance was far superior to Gore's. Bush got a Harvard MBA, whereas Gore dropped out of two different graduate programs at a lesser university.

Mitt Romney was a truly outstanding student. I believe he graduated first in his MBA class at Harvard, while simultaneously attending Harvard Law School. However, in the mainstream media, I have seen only a few articles extoling Mitt's academic record and hardly any at all asking why Obama has hidden his academic record.

To me, this is all about media bias. Records (or the lack thereof) are big stories if they make a Dem look good or make a Rep look bad.

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