Life Father, Unlike Son

The Apple That Fell Far From the Tree

The difference between George and Mitt Romney on taxes is also an emblem of how we've changed for the worse.

Krugman is in fine form today on some of the differences between George and Mitt Romney. The father, as is well known, released 12 years of tax returns as he sought the presidency, on the grounds that one year might have been a fluke. So, 12 years!

The returns then revealed that while he made a lot of money, Romney pere did not take advantage of every tax loophole under the sun. He paid, Krugman writes, 37 percent of his income in taxes over the whole 12-year period. Also, of course, George made his money in a straightforward and comprehensible way. He sold cars. He had innovative ideas, and people liked his cars. (AMC didn't become crap until later.)

As to the son, well, he released one year's worth of taxes, showing that he paid about 14 percent of his income in taxes. Krugman:

But as the Vanity Fair report points out, we’re still very much in the dark about his investments, some of which seem very mysterious.

Put it this way: Has there ever before been a major presidential candidate who had a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account, plus tens of millions invested in the Cayman Islands, famed as a tax haven?

And then there’s his Individual Retirement Account. I.R.A.’s are supposed to be a tax-advantaged vehicle for middle-class savers, with annual contributions limited to a few thousand dollars a year. Yet somehow Mr. Romney ended up with an account worth between $20 million and $101 million.

There are legitimate ways that could have happened, just as there are potentially legitimate reasons for parking large sums of money in overseas tax havens. But we don’t know which if any of those legitimate reasons apply in Mr. Romney’s case — because he has refused to release any details about his finances. This refusal to come clean suggests that he and his advisers believe that voters would be less likely to support him if they knew the truth about his investments.

Yes, Romney should come clean, and Democrats should be out there talking up this issue. Are they trying? I'm not hearing much of it. The VF piece Krugman mentions has been getting a lot of attention in the media, but I don't see that Democrats are pounding hard on this.

From a nonelectoral perspective, the difference between father and son shows again that our problem in this country is the total decline of civic morality among the elites. It may also show a character differential. But put Mitt Romney back in 1968 as the head of AMC. Would he have done more or less what his pops did? Maybe not 12 years, but my guess would be that he'd be more open, and that he certainly would not have used every tax loophole under the sun in those days, because people just didn't.

So character can account for some of the difference. But I'd reckon that the bulk of the difference is the change in our civic culture. As in, then we had one, and today we don't. So there are no rules that a person like Romney has to play by. Take every loophole. Hide your finances. Get away with everything you can possibly get away with.

That is the rot in our society, folks. Not coastal liberals, not gay people, not trial lawyers; also, not wealth per se. But how the wealthy behave. Mitt's secrety ought to be a campaign issue. But it's also more--it's an emblem of how much worse we are as a society than we used to be.