Birthers 2.0: Romney Tax Return Crusade is a Witch Hunt

The July 12 Boston Globe article, claiming that Mitt Romney worked for Bain Capital three years longer than he stated, stirred up an already vicious campaign. With attack ads becoming more frequent and more personal, a potential scandal was exactly what the campaigns were looking for to deliver that Mortal Combat “FINISH HIM” blow.   

As a reminder, the Boston Globe reported last Thursday that Mitt Romney, although having stated that he left Bain Capital in 1999 to work for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, actually remained listed as the firm’s “sole stockholder, chairman of the board, chief executive officer, and president.”  This is significant because Romney had been claiming that he was not responsible for many of Bain’s companies filing bankruptcies and laying off workers, as he left before those events transpired. As if newfound responsibility for bankruptcies and layoffs in a presidential race based almost entirely on jobs and the economy were not bad enough, according to factcheck.org, this would also make Romney “guilty of a federal felony.”

The Obama campaign was kind enough to point the potential felony out in the first place, leading to a complicated initial rebuff by factcheck.org before they eventually corrected themselves and agreed with the Obama campaign that Romney would have committed a federal crime under 18 USC 1001.  The Romney campaign predictably demanded an apology and essentially called the president a liar.  The Obama campaign refused to apologize, stating that if Romney wants credit for his business leadership, he also needs to take responsibility.

All of this back and forth is certainly spicing up what had been a relatively mundane presidential race.  However, one cannot help but be reminded of another occasion when opponents desperately searched for any possible reason that one could not serve as president: the birther controversy. There are obviously many differences between that particular hullabaloo and the current scandal, but it is undeniable that conspiracy theories arise when people do not want to accept a certain truth. Some fringe Republicans could hardly bear that Barack Obama had legitimately been elected president and so rumors began circulating that he could be eliminated on a technicality. Some of the same people refuse to accept the SCOTUS ruling on the Affordable Care Act, and insist that Chief Justice John Roberts’ epilepsy medication impairs his judgment. Could Democrats be succumbing to this same temptation?

The stereotype of Democrats thinking they are smarter than everyone else is a pervasive one. Romney, a Republican businessperson, was successful and rich, and did lots of good in the world by creating lots of jobs for lots of people. It is consistent with the Democratic stereotype that they would find it difficult to believe a Republican could accomplish so much without any shady business. Naturally an opposing campaign would begin searching for a way to paint the Romney’s successes as failures.  However, the challenge “show us your tax returns” is still eerily similar to “show us your birth certificate.”

The main difference between these two, for the time, conspiracy theories is that President Obama proved that he had nothing to hide by releasing his birth certificate to the public. This quelled (most of) the rumors of his foreign birthplace. Romney could easily achieve the same result by making his tax releases public and definitively proving that he was not actively managing Bain Capital from 1999-2002.  Until he does, stubborn Democrats will continue to ask, “What is he hiding?”

On an unlikely but somewhat amusing note, Mitt Romney will have a very difficult time serving as president from a jail cell if this turns out to be true.