Harry Reid and the Democrats are demanding that Mitt Romney make public his tax records for the past five years. Romney says the demand is "small-minded" given the challenges that America faces... but proudly claims that he has paid 13 percent of his income in taxes each year.
While the pundits debate disclosure, all of us in the much talked about 'middle class' -- those who sell our labor for an hourly rate -- wonder why it is that we earn less money but pay a greater percentage of our income.
While disclosure of taxes paid would be nice to see -- after all, we mortals, whether applying for government certification, bidding on a government contract or applying for a home mortgage, must provide at least three years of tax returns -- it is the 13 percent that Romney proudly claims to which our attention should be turned.
Rather than a distraction, Romney's 13 percent provides a clear view into the character of the man and the issues at the heart of the election -- the future of America's economy and social well being.
It is first and foremost a window into the tax code where Bush-era, Republican-championed changes have allowed corporations and the super-rich to protect more of their income while leaving the burden on struggling working families and the ever-more impoverished governments of our cities, towns and nations. Among the most egregious of these are the 2003 lowering of the tax rate on "income investment," changes that allow for off-shoring of intellectual property, individual and corporate profits and provide tax holidays for returning corporate profits, as Bush allowed in 2004.
It is also a window into the character of the man. Whereas beneficiaries of the Republican tax cuts like Warren Buffett and George Soros have called for eliminating these type of tax benefits, Romney has taken every advantage of the tax provisions to enrich himself, dismantling corporations and turning them into investment income portfolios that, rather than be of benefit to the nation, have cost us dearly in terms of tax revenues and employment. A tax- evader, albeit acting totally within the law, hardly seems like a worthy leader for our nation.
While Republican icons like Eisenhower, Nixon and Reagan concerned themselves with ensuring that the super-rich and powerful corporations paid more (because they can, and because they benefit more from publicly financed resources) Romney-Ryan propose extending and expanding tax cuts that protect uber-rich and uber-powerful coporations.
Why does it matter? There are obviously issues of fairness and the underpinnings of democracy. Growing income disparity and the creation of an embedded aristocracy have never been harbingers of political and social stability or well-being. But there are also issues of the immediate and long term economic prospects for the nation. While the wealthy get wealthier, our cities, towns and nation are ailing. While a decade ago it would have seemed unimaginable that cities and municipalities in Georgia, Pennsylvania -- let alone California, with the greatest number of billionaires in the nation -- would be forced to declare bankruptcy, all this has come to pass in the past months.
If this election is about anything, it is about the essentials that for 250 years have allowed us to grow, prosper and ensure the underpinnings of democracy.
We have been a nation committed to opportunity. We have been a nation that has been committed to investing in the infrastructure as well as the military might that is necessary to international and domestic security. We have been a nation that understands that public education and public welfare are not simply done out of charity or compassion but are critical to unleashing the talents upon which our economy is built and grows. We have been a nation that opposed the creation of hereditary wealth -- because of its danger to opportunity and democracy.
That is why Mitt Romney's taxes matter. They are more than a window into his soul -- they are a window into our future.
Marilyn Katz is the president of MK Communications, Inc. An author, columnist and political consultant she has led political movements since her student days in the 1960s. Foll her on Twitter, and check out her blog: marilynkatz.tumblr.com.
Follow Marilyn Katz on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mkatzchicago