Why won't Mitt Romney release his tax returns?

Perhaps for the same reason that President Obama won't release his Columbia transcripts. In politics, some things are just better left unsaid. Photo: Associated Press

FLORIDA, August 8, 2012 — Over the last few days, Mitt Romney’s tax returns have become a full-fledged media star.

Interestingly enough, it is not the returns themselves which hold public interest. Rather, the overarching mystery behind why they have not been released seems to be generating most buzz. Of course, Harry Reid’s shamefully irresponsible statements about the matter have heaped several gallons’ worth of fuel onto the fire.

Despite all of the hullabaloo, Romney did in fact publicize his tax returns for the last two years. You can read them on his campaign website. The problem is that people want to see how much he has earned over the last decade or so — undoubtedly to discover if he has taken full advantage of the ever-controversial Bush tax cuts.

In the event that he has, which is more than likely, this would create an excellent opening for the President’s reelection campaign to engage in its cherished pastime of class warfare. Considering the Great Recession’s enduring presence, this might be a devastatingly effective maneuver. One can only imagine the field day that David Axelrod would have.

Keeping this in mind, it really does not make much sense for Romney to release any further returns. However, good judgement alone will not hush Reid and the center-left punditocracy.

What might, then?

Simply put, Romney has to beat the President at his own game. Not class warfare, mind you, but confrontation politics. Romney should agree to release as much as two decades of returns on the condition that the President unseals his records from Columbia University.

There is every probability that these records would reveal a history of hardline leftist activism. More than a few of the stories which the President has related in his bestsellers might be revealed as, well, less than factual.

Who on earth would want an October surprise like that?

President Obama has fiercely concealed his own records — from his academic transcripts to his Selective Service data. There is nothing wrong with this, and there are good reasons to keep private information that has nothing to do with illegal or shameful behavior.

Providing your opposition with opportunities to mine your background for anything that can be spun against you, on the other hand, is dangerous. Especially now that the Internet and hyperpartisan politics make rapid, highly nuanced — read “dishonest” — attacks commonplace.

Which is more relevant to understanding how a president might make policy? His college transcripts, or the skill of his accountants and minimizing his tax bill? Does anyone honestly expect a candidate to pay more in taxes than the law requires?

The President is playing a game, attacking his opponent for doing what Obama himself is doing. Perhaps this is to difuse the issue of Obama’s own concealed records. That’s a game Romney can play as well, and he should play it to win. Politicking at the President’s level would surely be a challenge for him, but it stands to pay off in dividends.

That would be a just reward for such an uncharacteristically bold move from Romney.

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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