When Fox News worries out loud that Mitt Romney’s failure to account for his time at Bain and his personal tax affairs may represent his Swiftboat moment, it is plain the Republican presidential bid has careened offtrack. The Bain attacks are “part of a strategy by Team Obama to turn Romney’s biggest perceived strength – his business experience – into his biggest weakness,” writes Fox’s Juan Williams. “Romney needs to come clean or his hopes of being president will end long before Election Day.”
How has Romney come so close to bungling his big chance, even before he has been nominated by his party? He appeared to be in an ideal position to turn his experience as a businessman into a winning political narrative. During these jobless economic doldrums, Romney might have become a champion of capitalism, explaining how private enterprise works and how it creates jobs.
His problem is that his time at Bain is not a classic story of heroic capitalism at work. Instead of an old-school entrepreneur with a good idea who raises funds to employ Americans to make a product that sells successfully around the world, Romney took distraught companies, charged them hefty fees, fired workers, and set the stumbling enterprise off in a new direction, laden with debt. Some companies prospered, some failed. Some gave Americans new jobs, some sent jobs overseas.
Romney’s tax embarrassment follows a similar arc. No one likes paying taxes, but conservatives have made tax dodging a religion, so Romney was in prime position to explain how taxing people too much can drag an economy down and how the rich, if lightly taxed, spend freely and create jobs. But the intricacies of Romney’s vast wealth are far from simple and his personal tax avoidance measures beyond ingenious.
There may be good reasons to hold a bank account in a tax haven like the Caymans, but most Americans don’t have reason to resort to such ruses. They suspect that those who help avoid the payment of taxes due in America are unpatriotic, even un-American. So how does Romney set minds at rest on his tax record? He doesn’t; he insists he will only issue two tax returns.