Friday, January 20, 2012

Newt Bares His Teeth and Mitt Flashes The Cash

Newt Bares His Teeth and Mitt Flashes The Cash

The Republicans held yet another debate last night, in what is becoming a fascinating black tie version of demolition derby for the principles they hold so dear.

To start with, the moderator, John King asked Newt the inevitable question about his second wife’s accusations that Newt wanted an “open marriage.” King had to ask it, Newt knew it was coming, and like the steroidal (if not to say hormonal) slugger Newt is, he hit it 600 feet.  The crowd went absolutely wild.

Newt’s response seems to be an entirely novel variation of the Twinkie Defense.  He knew (he’s a transformational figure who thinks big thoughts) that one day the liberal media, hoping to re-elect a Democratic President, would try to bring him down by raising infidelity.  So, as a service to the nation, he set a trap for them. He started an affair with his aide while married to his second wife, leaving her bitter and open to leveling wild (and entirely baseless) accusations.  Last night, after decades of preparation, the trap was sprung, and hapless John King fell right into it. 

With the crowd eating out of his hand (moral relativism is a wonderful thing) Newt moved on to bigger game. An aide back at the Gingrich campaign’s nerve center simultaneously posted his tax returns, King announced it, and Newt pivoted from righteous outrage with King, to demand that Mitt release his tax returns.

Watching the color drain from Mitt Romney’s tanned face is something I’m not likely to forget.  Nor is hearing him stammer, as finally, painfully, haltingly, grudgingly he agreed to release his returns after they are prepared (presumably in April, after he’s won the nomination.)  Then, after being goaded by King he (perhaps) agreed to release as many as 12 years.

Wow. My mind immediately leaped to visions of the event itself.  Formal, I would imagine, with a lot of focus on what various GOP luminaries would be wearing on the red carpet.  Prada, Givenchy, adorned by Harry Winston and Van Cleef & Arpels?

And the emcee?  Probably not Jon Stewart.  Definitely not Bill Maher.  Mike Huckabee would be an inspired pick-one part country, one part reverent, but all just plain folk. 

The press might be a problem.  Once you’ve filled the Murdoch wing of the auditorium, do you really want to waste valuable space on the lamestream media?  Especially since Mitt’s returns are going to be treated like the Dead Sea Scrolls-placed in a bombproof, airtight, climate controlled room, with limited access to scholars granted beginning ten years after Mitt leaves office.

And what are they going to show that we don’t already suspect?  Mitt makes a lot of money. Mitt pays a substantially lower tax rate on his earnings than the person who empties his office’s wastebaskets-he told us he paid at a 15% rate.  Mitt probably has a great deal coming in from past business deals, liquidating trusts, Bain payouts, etc.  Mitt uses an offshore tax haven. 

Mitt is rich. He can afford expensive attorneys and tax consultants to minimize his “burden.” His tax returns are going to reflect that.  And I would hazard a guess that they are scrupulously prepared, and disclose all his income, while taking advantage of every legal deduction.  Why should we care at all? 

We shouldn’t begrudge Mitt his wealth.  He earned it.  You may not like some of what Bain did (and express that at the ballot box) but that’s a moral evaluation, not a legal one.  Mitt played by the rules at Bain-the good, and the bad, and for all the angst, the lost jobs, the impaired pensions, that’s just capitalism.  It’s messy and sometimes there are real losers, but Mitt was a winner.

If Mitt files and pays his taxes on time, and if his money was made legally, what’s the problem?  It’s certainly not how much he has or how much he makes.  A considerable number of our Presidents were wealthy, a number were even aristocrats.  Wealth has never and should never be a disqualifier. 

So, why is it that the Republican Establishment is having a fit about Newt and Rick’s focus on Mitt’s tax returns?  Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, in “The GOP’s Suicide March” doesn’t mince any words. These are the Democratic arguments, Team Obama arguments, and “class warfare” arguments.  Newt and Rick (and Perry before them) shouldn’t be making them. 

Apparently, just as an attack on Bain is an attack on free enterprise, scrutiny of Mitt’s tax returns is an equal apostasy.  Mitt’s returns are going to show, in black and white, just how much preferential treatment the tax code gives certain segments of society.  And in the quiet hallways of the lobbying firms, and the flocked-wallpapered partners’ conference rooms, for the power people who really run the country, this type of attention is not welcome. 

The Democrats have been floundering about (their usual state) trying to frame the debate on spending and taxes as the one percent vs. the ninety-nine percent.  It’s not working.  They haven’t figured out what Newt Gingrich has; that when he (and a lot of other taxpayers) pay 31% and Mitt pays 15%, some people in the electorate might not like that, and they may start talking about it, and asking why.

Mitt Romney’s tax returns are the roadmap for that discussion.  Charles Krauthammer thinks so, and doesn’t want to have it.  Newt Gingrich thinks so, and does.

Shhh.  Let’s hope no one notices.  Who cares what Newt thinks?  He’s a little crazy.