Wild about Harry

    Politicians should be held accountable when they utter wild and unsupported allegations. For instance, Harry Reid.Earlier this week, during an interview with The Huffington Post, the Senate Democratic leader took aim at Mitt Romney’s ongoing refusal to release his tax returns. Reid thinks he knows why Romney has opted for secrecy. He said that he recently got a call from “a person who had invested with Bain Capital” who supposedly had the skinny on Romney. This person supposedly said to Reid: “Harry, he didn’t pay any taxes for 10 years.”If true, such a revelation could sink Romney’s campaign. The problem is, Reid has no clue whether it’s true:”He didn’t pay taxes for 10 years! Now, do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain. But obviously he can’t release those tax returns. How would it look?….You guys (in the press) have said his wealth is $250 million. Not a chance in the world. It’s a lot more than that. I mean, you do pretty well if you don’t pay taxes for 10 years when you’re making millions and millions of dollars.”Do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain.Sorry, Democrats. If Reid didn’t know whether the hearsay allegation had any basis in fact, he shouldn’t have repeated it. He refused to identify the Bain investor (assuming that this person exists). Nor did he offer any empirical proof to support his very serious charge. That’s a toxic tactic, reminiscent of the baseless claim that Barack Obama is foreign-born. Democrats routinely denounce conservatives who recycle that birther junk – and they should be reacting the same way about Reid, who at least ought to know better. But instead, some liberal bloggers have actually applauded Reid. (From the Crooks and Liars website: “Well played, sir. Well played.”)I get what Reid was doing. He was a boxer in his youth, and he knows that the way to win is to hammer an opponent’s weak spot. The tax return issue is a Romney vulnerability; it’s slowly bleeding him in the polls. So if you punch him hard, you keep him on the defensive. Make a wild charge, make the guy deny the charge, and it keeps the story alive. It’s an old trick that Lyndon B. Johnson perfected when he was a young Texas politician. One time, he decided to spread a rumor that his opponent had sex with pigs. LBJ’s campaign adviser objected. Lyndon, he said, you know darn well that our opponent doesn’t have sex with pigs. To which LBJ said, “Oh I know that. But let’s make the sumbitch deny it.”That’s dirty pool. And if someone like Karl Rove was to float a similarly baseless charge against Obama – coupled with the caveat “Do I know that that’s true? Well, I’m not certain” – we all know what the reaction would be. Democrats would be infuriated, and the New York Times editorial page would be in high dudgeon. Harry Reid deserves the same treatment.——-What we do know about Romney is sufficient grist for scorn. Here’s the latest:The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center yesterday released a devastating report which concluded that Romney’s semi-sketchy tax reform plan would actually slash taxes for the richest five percent of Americans – and hike taxes for the rest of us. (Big surprise.) The Romney camp duly swung into action and denounced the report as a “biased study” and a “liberal study.”Which is priceless, because a mere nine months ago, Team Romney praised the selfsame Tax Policy Center for offering “objective, third-party analysis.”In other words, if Romney agrees with a study, the message is: Think Tank Good. But if he gets whacked by a study, the message is: Think Tank Bad.No word yet on how the Romney camp plans to deal with the fact that Donald Marron, who directs the Tax Policy Center, was formerly a senior economic adviser to President George W. Bush.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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