Mitt's Cayman Island Gift
Mitt Romney seems to have reflexively winced with embarrassment at the questions about his perfectly logical finance and tax decisions. Understandable. Of course, the subject of his wealth precedes not-so-veiled attacks coming from an unfriendly press corps and a vicious opponent who will use any means to paint him as a real-life Gordon Gekko.
But he is missing a fantastic opportunity.
"Yes, I have many offshore accounts. Yes, I take advantage of legal deductions and tax incentives in compliance with the tax code. I am a wealthy, successful man who didn't get that way by being a fool. Furthermore, one of the main reasons I am seeking the presidency is to change the disgraceful tax laws that force someone like me to go through the time, money, and effort to protect oneself from the arbitrary and bewildering maze of confiscatory taxation."
When people on the left decry the "unfairness" of federal tax laws, they are in the right -- but not in the way they intend. They mean that it is unfair in a vague way for the rich to have so much money. They want the rich to be punished. Facts about the rates and amounts of tax paid by the wealthy are of no interest to these people.
But the system is unfair. For what is fair about a system that confiscates your earnings at arbitrary and changing rates, giving privileges and breaks to people based on who they are, how much they earn, and what kind of behavior they exhibit? It is fundamentally unfair. And, to make things worse, with full force of law, the government requires its intimidated citizens to complete forms that a professor at MIT would find bewildering. The IRS itself says it takes the average taxpayer twenty-two hours of time and $290 in costs to complete a simple Form 1040. National Taxpayer Advocate Nina E. Olson in her 2011 report to Congress found that the tax code had grown to 3.8 million words as of Feb. 1, 2010 and that using the IRS's own estimated numbers, she deduced that individuals and businesses spend 6.1 billion hours each year working to simply comply with the code.
Along with promoting his successful managerial experience as preparation for the presidency, Romney should also embrace his wealth as the fruits of that success. Instead, he mitigates his argument by deprecating his obvious wealth. Perhaps this is a sign of humility and good manners, but it is nonetheless a detriment to his campaign and therefore the future of the country.
Romney has the opportunity to use the momentum of the Obama campaign against his opponents by seizing tax fairness as his theme. Radical tax simplification ought to be sold as much fairer than the current scheme. All the effort put into getting him to release his tax records now works against the Democrats, as Mitt embraces his experience exploiting loopholes to argue that he knows how to make it simple and fairer. Pundits could note that Joseph P. Kennedy, founder of the Democrats' reigning dynasty, was appointed the inaugural chairman of the SEC and did a well-regarded job cleaning up Wall Street, based on his experience as a Wall Street manipulator in the 1920s. He knew how it was done.
Romney is in an ideal position to fight this continuing injustice and gain tremendous popularity for the effort. Every American is unhappy with federal tax laws. Nobody understands them. But all agree that the system is complex and riddled with loopholes and deductions cooked up by a corrupt Congress. There are millions of votes to be had by someone credible enough to promise to reform it. Romney can do that.
His supporters are asking Romney to get tough and engage the enemy. Here is his opportunity. When asked why he moves money offshore, the worst response is to apologize. Romney should speak plainly and loud and clear. The answer: "Because our ridiculous tax laws force me too!" And the perfect follow-up. "Elect me, and I will completely revamp the tax laws, simplify the code, eliminate political influence, and, finally, end offshore incentives so that I can bring all my millions back home to this great country where they belong."