Bob Franken

King Features Column

The usual disclaimer: The syndication deal requires this column to appear here a week after its newspaper release)

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Surely Mitt Romney didn’t believe that his new claim he “never paid less than 13 percent to the IRS” would be enough to dampen fiery demands from Democrats that he release his tax returns going back a decade or so. They’re having too much fun watching him squirm. 
Ignore his pretend petulance at a reporter asking such a “small-minded” question, Romney obviously had decided he needed to try to quell controversy over his refusal to release the returns. But he didn’t quell well.
The more he digs in his heels, the more he gives Democrats an opportunity to knock him over with their relentless portrayal of him as an out-of-touch super-rich guy who takes unfair advantage of a system stacked in favor of the wealthy hoarding their often ill-gotten gains. 
So when Mitt does his “trust me” act, the opposition responds with its “prove it” routine. Those were the exact words, for instance, of Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt on a conference call. Several of his other partisan soul mates pounced with variations of “What is he hiding?” 
One has to wonder about that, particularly when the candidate’s wife, Ann Romney, went on NBC’s “Rock Center” to once again contend that full disclosure would only give the opposition “ammunition.” That raises the Inevitable question: What kind of “ammunition”?
Would it blow up in their faces? Let’s just suspend disbelief and take Mitt at his word that he paid the percentage he claimed. Would the tax returns reveal whether he was basing that on income or the entirety of his annual haul mainly from investments? Would they show even more money sheltered in the offshore havens also used by some of the world’s most unsavory characters? In other words, would this “13 percent” reflect the frequent game-playing of the 1 percenters? 

His new running mate, Paul Ryan, probably didn’t help when he released his returns from the past two years. To put it mildly, Ryan is nowhere near as wealthy as the man who has just adopted him, but he paid a higher rate. And let’s not forget that the Mitt Romneys of this world want to shell out even less. Wouldn’t we all? Of course, what little we know of his economic plan reveals that the bulk of us will be paying more. 
So when he trots out his wife to repeatedly argue that the family has “been very transparent to what’s legally required of us,” she simply begs a fundamental question: After they have reaped their rich rewards, should the ultraprosperous be “legally required” to bear a slight bit more of the expense of the society that enabled them by providing the infrastructure to turn their innovations into princely sums. The way it works now, they avoid paying their fair share simply by purchasing lawmakers , who then make laws that grant their corporate masters favored treatment. They are “job creators,” we are told, but the dreary employment situation makes that mighty debatable. 
Since the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, this undue influence has become more brazen. When Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson pledges $100 million to help defeat Barack Obama, Republicans scamper to his door to feast on what, for him, is table scraps. While they scrounge for his crumbs, they pay no heed to the fact that the tactics he employs to fill his larder are the subject of several investigations, both criminal and civil.
At least Adelson is open about his attempts to buy a government. So many others are allowed to exercise shadow influence. They have a soul mate in Mitt Romney.
Unless Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks buddies get bored and somehow hack Mitt’s records we might never know whether he has truly lived up to the common-sense responsibilities of honorable tax-paying citizenship. Apparently, he and his buddies believe that is none of our business.

© 2012 Bob Franken
Bob Franken

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