Scoundrel politics

    It was sadly inevitable that the Romney Republicans, taking heat for the candidate’s refusal to release multiple tax returns, would revert to GOP primitivism and thus confirm Samuel Johnson’s 18th-century adage that “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”Such was the case yesterday when Romney surrogate John Sununu, a bigwig in the senior Bush White House and a seasoned GOP attack dog circa 1991, sought to divert press attention from Romney’s cult of secrecy by pumping new life into the old conservative catechism about how President Obama is insufficiently true to the red, white, and blue.Sununu played the scoundrel card twice in a matter of hours, telling Fox News that Obama “has no idea how the American system functions,” and telling journalists in a conference call that “I wish this president would learn how to be an American.”Gee. I had long assumed that the rise of a mixed-race kid, from a single-parent household in Hawaii to the crucible of power in Washington, was actually the quintessence of how to be an American – an historic fulfillment of the American dream, and all that – but I guess I had it wrong.Sununu and Romney have a different definition. We humble citizens clearly have so much to learn about how to be an American. Pay attention, students, because these might be on the test:A real American hides his money far from America’s shores, in places like Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.A real American, taking full advantage of a U.S. tax code rigged by special-interest lobbyists, pays U.S. taxes at a rate far lower than the rate paid by the average lunch-bucket worker.A real American is someone whose firm ships American jobs out of America, and reaps the resultant financial rewards.A real American expands his wealth by investing in at least 12 funds that his firm established far from America’s shores, most notably in the Caymans.According to Sununu and Romney, this is “how to be an American” and “how the American system functions.” But their main goal yesterday, of course, was to take the focus off Romney’s adamant refusal to comply with the disclosure norms that all major candidates have honored for decades. In their view, a real American candidate is someone who favors secrecy over transparency.The problem, however, is that a growing number of people in the GOP camp – including Haley Barbour, Michael Steele, Ron Paul, Rick Perry (sorta), Texas congressman Pete Sessions, North Carolina congressman Walter Jones, and strategists Rick Tyler and John Feehery – want Romney to knock off the stonewalling and release multiple tax returns.And Romney took his biggest hit yesterday, when the National Review – the bellwether conservative magazine/website, which has been friendly to Mitt since it first endorsed him in 2008 – declared in an editorial that he should get with the program, pronto:”Romney protests that he is not legally obliged to release any tax returns. Of course not. He is no longer in the realm of the private sector, though, where he can comply with the letter of the law with the Securities and Exchange Commission and leave it at that. Perceptions matter.”Romney may feel impatience with requirements that the political culture imposes on a presidential candidate that he feels are pointless (and inconvenient). But he’s a politician running for the highest office in the land, and his current posture is probably unsustainable. In all likelihood, he won’t be able to maintain a position that looks secretive and is a departure from campaign conventions. The only question is whether he releases more returns now, or later — after playing more defense on the issue and sustaining more hits. There will surely be a press feeding frenzy over new returns, but better to weather it in the middle of July….”By drawing out the argument over the returns, Romney is playing into the president’s hands. He should release them, respond to any attacks they bring, and move on.”Instead, Romney and his surrogates seem to think that he can soldier on with his secrecy by wrapping himself in the flag and playing scoundrel politics. But, as the National Review pointed out, he’s “no longer in the realm of the private sector.” He’s in the political arena, where the spotlight is pitiless. If or when Romney finally embraces the principle of disclosure, he’ll pass a key test on what it means to be an American.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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