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Paul Slansky Headshot

(Dukakis + Kerry) x Nixon = Romney

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It's hard to imagine a story the Republican candidate's campaign would less like the media to focus on -- with the possible exception, thanks to the relentless Gail Collins, of Seamus on the car roof -- than his mystery tax returns, which is why, of course, it's so delightful that the pitiless media spotlight is circling just that spot.

The Massachusetts era of Democratic political brilliance ran from JFK through John McCormack and Tip O'Neill, abruptly crashing to a halt in 1988 with the hapless Michael Dukakis, the anti-Kennedy, a black hole of uncharisma destined to be remembered for two things -- his bloodless debate reaction to the proposition that his wife was raped and killed, and, most definitively, the "Snoopy in the tank" video. Sixteen years later we had John Kerry windsurfing while letting himself -- an actual war hero, as opposed to the Smirking Chimp, with his affinity for going AWOL -- be put on the defensive about his military service.

But both of them pale in comparison to the astonishing spectacle of Willard Mitt ("Mittens") Romney, with his preternaturally pitch-perfect ability -- witness his less than triumphant foreign jaunt -- to say or do exactly the wrong thing. Mittens' basic discomfort with himself approaches the Nixonian (though their backgrounds could hardly be less similar), and we have three more months of his egregious hilariousness -- and three debates -- to look forward to.

At long last it's the Republicans who are stuck with one of these pathetically miscast losers, and don't think they don't know it. Even, maybe especially, among the upper echelon of his increasingly lunatic party, Mittens is not just barely tolerated but is roundly despised by many of the people whose job it is to sell him, and yet who are incapable of hiding their lack of enthusiasm about it. They can't stand him, viscerally, for the same reason any average sane being can't stand him: He is personally insufferable.

He is a compulsive liar, and never more so than when he tells himself he deserves to be the most powerful man in the world. Everything Mittens says is patently false, whether it's about something political -- this idiotic meme we've endured throughout Obama's term about his "anti-Americanism" (i.e. BLACKNESS!) -- or something more of the essence of who he is, like his absurd declaration that he found the earlier kerfuffle about his taxes "amusing." Yes, how they must have giggled in Mittland at those little people thinking they could make him tell them anything about himself that he felt the need to keep hidden -- which, apparently, is pretty much everything, except for the odd fact like that he went through a shootin' phase (though only, it turned out, against "small varmints") or that he thinks that in Michigan "the trees are the right height." His sublime gaffes -- be they verbal, tonal, or political (or, in his case, sometimes all three at once) -- just keep coming. He can't stop himself, it's who -- or more truthfully, what -- he is. If "corporations are people, my friends," well, some people seem more like body-snatched corporate androids.

Mittens' people are surely unthrilled with their inability to hide his cluelessness -- and, it happily seems, his wife's -- about how ordinary humans (in this case, the 99.5%) think, speak and feel. So the Democrats smell a certain kind of blood in the water -- Massachusetts blood, the anemic kind they've been periodically spilling over the past quarter-century -- and suddenly they're all emboldened and they've managed to grow a pair. (It would be nice to see Obama govern with a fraction of the ruthlessness he campaigns with.) And who gets to whip them out on the table? Wussy Harry Reid.

Even Jon Stewart took him to task, but Reid, despite that savage scolding, is channeling LBJ's brutality, however bland the presentation -- who knows, maybe he read the Caro -- and is doubling down on the claim, indisputable by anyone but Mittens himself, that the presumptive Republican nominee for president "hasn't paid any taxes for ten years." And, of course, being the quintessentially terrible candidate that he is, he plays right into it by continuing to refuse to provide the very information that could prove his accusers to be scurrilous liars. Now, why on earth would he do that, unless ...?

Of course, there can be no other ending than the release of his tax returns. The beauty of it is that the longer he stonewalls, the more solidified becomes the notion, loudly and repeatedly trumpeted, that he's hiding something, and the weaker he'll look when he finally and inevitably capitulates and releases them, by which time the media-fueled certainty that they must be damaging will have the public primed to see them negatively. And they will not disappoint.

If you have any belief in any kind of God, pray to Him, Her or It that Mittens is still hiding his tax returns when he and Obama step on stage for the first debate.