National Review made headlines yesterday in calling for Mitt Romney to release tax returns, which has been a dominant theme of the President's quest to keep his job in the face of a lackluster first term. This request of the President's has been of course, taken up by Mr. Obama's supporters in the press, and there is now a fairly strong drumbeat calling for Romney to do so. National Review's Neville Chamberlain-like advocacy of appeasement is regrettable, and Romney should resist it.
There is no legal requirement for Presidential candidates to release their tax returns. Virtually all do, to some extent. Romney has released his 2010 return, and has said he will release his 2011 return. This strikes me as sufficient. That Romney's father did so in 1968 (with 12 years of returns) has proven to be the most delicious fact of all waved around by the "show me" crowd".
There are several reasons Romney should resist. The first is to remind the American people that while he is running for President, he remains an American citizen with SOME shred of privacy. President Obama resisted releasing his birth certificate for three years in the face of calls for its release, citing privacy over a document far less personal than the ones being called for today.
The second is that there is no limiting principle. How many years worth of returns? Twelve? Because his Daddy did? No other candidate since has released that many. Five? Is that enough. The fact is that there simply is not a good answer to the question, because the answer always comes back to "as far as it takes for us to find things with which to gain political advantage."
Third, and related to the first and second, is the notion of "what is not on the table?" Folks on our side of the aisle believe that President Obama should release his college and law school transcripts and his grades. Exactly why? Should Romney then do the same? Have we a right to the same information from Michelle O and Ann R? After all, they wield incredible influence on the candidates and/or the President.
This is a ridiculous and ultimately destructive path. Romney should lead on the issue; he should be bigger than this pettiness. And he should do it in a major speech that serves as a full-throated defense of capitalism and free markets. The speech should draw distinctions between free-markets and crony capitalism. It should remind voters of the billions of people lifted from poverty worldwide by free markets, and the billions enslaved by collectivism. And he should take on the tax return issue directly--something like this:
I married my great love and we are still together, 43 years and five accomplished sons later. She and I lived humbly while I went to grad school and had our first children. We worked, and we saved. I did not get where I am today because I had a rich father, no matter how much the other side would want you to believe that . I went into business, and as some of you have heard, I've done pretty well. I did well because over the course of 25 years in the private sector, I made a lot of decisions--most were good, some were not so good. On balance though, my skill in selecting companies in which to invest was valued by many people, and that is why they chose me to tend to their investments.
I want the American public to understand better what I did in that job, so they can have a set of facts with which to evaluate the President's often dishonorable charges. I did not seek out companies to invest in that were healthy, profitable and well-run. Those kinds of companies were simply too expensive, and there wasn't much I could do with them to earn return for my investors. No--I sought out companies that had at their heart a good idea, a good model, a good business plan--but for whatever reason, were under-performing. And by underperforming, in many cases, I mean that without Bain's investment, or someone like Bain, these companies would have failed and taken those jobs with them. My job was to find these companies and inject money into them in order to get them headed straight and narrow, so that my investors would profit. As a condition of Bain's investment, we sometimes restructured the companies to make them more efficient to improve their long term prospects, so that they could grow and hire more people. This is what happened more often than not.
On occasion, I made a bad decision. I picked a business to invest in that simply couldn't be turned around. Sometimes it was forces beyond anyone's control, sometimes it was due to easily identifiable causes, like extortionary wage demands from unions. When companies like that failed, Americans should know it was after tens of millions of dollars had been invested in them. Again--these were companies that would likely have failed without Bain's investment. We put time, money and sweat into saving them, but we ultimately couldn't do it. When they failed, good people lost jobs--but the narrative that you hear from the President never includes the years and money spent trying to save these companies and these jobs--only what happened at the end.
In the course of 25 years of loving my wife, raising good sons, and running a successful business, I became a wealthy man. A very wealthy man. I am told by the people that manage my investments that as of this day, I am worth approximately $300M (or whatever the number is). I mention the people who manage my investments not to sound even more like a rich guy, but to bring up the very seldom mentioned fact that my money is not managed by me--it is managed in blind trusts, and it has been for over five years. Put simply, I have nothing to do with the investment decisions that guide where my money goes these days.
I worked hard throughout my life in the private sector. Twenty-five years. Along the way, I helped create a hundred thousand jobs and spawned a number of successful, household brands. And I became rich along the way. I will not apologize for that, I will not indulge the President and his politics of envy. I believe the American people continue to hold out hope that they too can move up the economic ladder like Ann and I did, and that they know that we all have our own ladders, that someone else's progress in no way limits mine. That's really what's at stake in this election, folks. We have a President and a Party that truly believe that the the size of the pie is constant, and that if someone else has more of it, that leaves less for me. This creates envy, resentment, and class warfare--this animates the President's speeches and it whips his supporters into a frenzy of collectivist enthusiasm. I see the pie and I see the need to grow the pie, so that each of us can have a bigger slice of it, and that one person's gain is not at the expense of another.
Which brings us to the issue of our tax returns. I have released my 2010 return and I will release my 2011 return tomorrow. That's all I'm going to do. I am not going to go further--not because I have something to hide, but because there is not limit to what the other side asks. Their sole desire is to dredge up facts that might embarrass me and lead to political gain. They work to convince their pliant supporters that somehow the American people have a right to this information. I'm sorry, they don't .
We are watching a President with an indefensible record try to change the conversation about his terrible record in guiding the economy to what I was doing while I was in the private sector. Along the way, whatever honor or principle he had has diminished. He is engaging in character attack simply to keep his job. This is not an honorable approach, and I hope all of you can see it clearly.
How honorable would it be for me to cave on principle now just to enable my desire to take his job? Do I somehow become more honorable and worthy of the office by engaging in the same kind of dishonorable behavior as the President? I do not think so.
If you don't want to vote for me because I won't release a dozen or more years of tax returns, I wish you well. And if the President wins the election because of this, so be it. In that case, the country would have made a choice to reinstate a man in the Presidency who arrived there with no experience or accomplishments, and who has in his four years in office proved himself to be inexperienced and unaccomplished. The American people deserve better, and that's why I hope they'll support me.