It's important to understand what's at stake in the controversy. Romney's campaign will try to spin this as just a partisan game of political gotcha and as somehow illegitimate in a presidential election. Their main tactic is to claim that the President is just trying to get the focus off the struggling economy.
This is just not true. Indeed last night Romney tried this during his interviews last night which didn't answer anything:
“I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more,” Mr. Romney said on CNN. “And, you know, we’re putting out what is required plus more that is not required. And those are the two years that people are going to have. And that’s — that’s all that’s necessary for people to understand something about my finances.”
This makes it sound as if there's something unprecedented in the questions being asked him. In reality, this is not a Darrell Issa House investigation-that is to say an endless, open-ended fishing expedition. To the contrary, Romney is unprecedented in not releasing his taxes as every candidate for President since his father back in the 1960s has done.
He can't say people always demand more when he hasn't given us anything yet. And this is really why this matters. It's not a peripheral issue to distract from the main issues of the campaign, to the contrary it is at the heart of the campaign itself.
It is a question about the man Mitt Romney and the candidate for President and reaches down to the crucial question of policy.
On the personal level it's shocking how little public disclosure Romney is willing to give us. The Obama campaign made the analogy of the Nixon Administration for the last time we saw someone on the presidential level this sworn to secrecy, lack of transparency, and simply contempt for the idea of public disclosure.
You can make the case that Romney's campaign is as lacking in transparency as Nixon. Actually I would argue that the Administration of George W. Bush gave Nixon a run for his money and may have been as John Dean-who was in the Nixon Administration-argues worse than Nixon.
In a way, Romney is worse than Nixon, worse even than Bush in the sense that this is only campaign season. If he is so lacking transparency in the campaign season what hope do we have once he is the President and has the powers of the office?
At least Bush told us what he would do. I didn't like what I heard, but the Bush tax cuts were not a surprise. Romney has a practice of trying to punt all questions till after November. It doesn't work that way!
Whether it be immigration, the Lilly Ledbetter act, or in this case, revealing his own finances.. Look upon a campaign as a courtship. In these terms Mr. Romney doesn't treat us very well now. It will only get worse after the wedding.
The idea that Americans would elect this man without him disclosing his finances publicly shows an extreme level of arrogance on the part of Mitt Romney. It's like a woman's fiance starting to abuse her before the wedding and her still marrying him.
As to the question of this being a diversion, to the contrary-Mr. Romney's aggressive tax avoidance is a wholly appropriate subject to focus on in the middle of a tax debate between the President who wants to lighten the tax burder on average Americans and raise them some on the wealthy vs. the Republican House who under Grover Norquist has promised to do the opposite.
In the middle of writing this post I see that Krugman puts it well in his piece 'No Bain, No Gain'
"There is, predictably, a mini-backlash against the Obama campaign’s focus on Bain. Some of it is coming from the Very Serious People, who think that we should be discussing their usual preoccupations. But some of it is coming from progressives, some of whom are apparently uncomfortable with the notion of going after Romney the man and wish that the White House would focus solely on Romney’s policy proposals."
"This is remarkably naive. I agree that the awfulness of Romney’s policy proposals is the main argument against his candidacy. But the Bain focus isn’t a diversion from that issue, it’s complementary. Given the realities of politics — and of the news media, as I’ll explain in a minute — any critique of Romney’s policies has to make use of his biography."
"running on the real policy issues by itself isn’t going to work. By all means, run on the real issues — but do so by creating a narrative, a pattern that registers with the public."
"And Romney’s biography offers a golden opportunity to do just that. His policy proposals amount to a radical redistribution of income away from the middle class to the very rich; he’s also being highly dishonest about budgets and just about everything else. How to make those true facts credible? By associating them with his business career, which involved a lot of profiting by laying off workers and/or taking away their benefits; his personal finances, which involved so much tax avoidance that he’s afraid to let us see his returns before 2010; his shiftiness over when exactly he left Bain."
didn’t make the most of Bain."
Kudos to Krugman as that really is it in a nutshell. The personal biography attack on Romney is not diversionary but complementary. Remember too that it was he who has tried to run on his biography so ironically we are fighting on his terrain. Look at the question of Romney's tax avoidance as a personal companion piece to the debate over the Ryan budget-which Romney supports. It's all about redistributing the tax burden from the rich to the middle class.