08/03/2012 09:05 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points -- 'A Tax' On Romney?

What with the attacks on Mitt Romney coming from Harry Reid this week, we thought we'd get into the spirit of London-tabloid-headline-ism: "No sacks of Romney tax facts?" "Harry: Mitt lax on tax!" "Reid backs max attacks on Romney tax lacks!" "Romney shellacks Reid tax attacks? Reid: No pax! Take an Ex-Lax!"

OK, maybe I had better just stop. Don't want to be lumped in with those particular hacks (ahem... OK, really, I'll stop now). For those of you wondering, we have officially entered Silly Season 2012. In fact, we've been getting rather silly all week long. Call it our own Silly Season 2012 torch relay, complete with a discussion of the weasel family. Which brings up a thought -- London missed out on the perfect opportunity to include a segment of the Olympic torch relay showing people doing Monty Pythonish "silly walks." Now there would have been compelling Olympic television! Ah, well, what "might have been...."

Getting back to Silly Season 2012 here in America, though -- this is, of course, the official time of year when all the politicians in Washington take (according to them) a well-deserved break from doing the job they're paid to do, to enjoy a luxurious five-week vacation. Because, as we all know, the nation's business has been so fully accomplished that there's really nothing more for Congress to do in August, so they might as well take the month off, right?

If only. The list of things left unaccomplished is actually monstrously big, starting off with the House's refusal to pass the farm bill which made it through the Senate. Because we all know the farmers are doing great this year, and won't mind waiting another month and a half (at minimum) for House Republicans to act. It's not like there's a drought happening or anything.

What's that? Nightly images of dead and dying corn on television? Half of the entire United States declared a disaster area for the first time in history? Why, that can't be right. You'd figure if (once again) half of America was in the midst of a disaster, that Congress would get the job done -- especially considering that most of the severe drought is smack dab in the middle of the reddest of red states. But, of course, you would be wrong. Maybe this will be a lively topic during Town Hall Season 2012, who knows? Especially since farmers will likely have some free time on their hands -- now that their crops are dead.

Here is more bad news: because Congress is off, the entire month of August will, for the political world, consist of nothing but campaign stories, most of them of the "horserace" variety. Every poll that comes out will send little frissons through either the left or the right side of the media spectrum, until everyone else is just sick of hearing about it.

Taking the gold medal this week for "most ironic thing I learned watching Craig Ferguson's show" is the fact that it is officially International Clown Week -- which was signed into law by none other than Richard Milhous Nixon. That one's so easy, you're going to have to write your own joke to commemorate the auspicious event. As Craig would say: "I look forward to your entries in the comments."

In other news, medical marijuana is finally going to get its day in federal court. Not some poor guy whose dispensary got busted, either, but the fundamental concept of medical marijuana will be the key to the trial. A direct lawsuit is moving along which challenges the federal government's refusal to reclassify marijuana on the list of dangerous controlled substances (Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Agency). For the first time, the argument will be directly based upon science. One side will attempt to prove (with truckloads of facts and data) that marijuana has medical benefits and therefore should be reclassified as "Schedule II," and the federal government will attempt to prove (with pure politics, nothing more) that this is not true -- even after one-third of all of the United States have already passed laws to that effect -- and that it should remain listed as "Schedule I" with other things that have no medical value whatsoever. This ought to be a lively and interesting case to watch, to put it mildly. One can only hope for a judge who places science above politics.

The Olympics ground onwards, but I have taken to ignoring most of the spectacle because every time I attempt to watch any of it on NBC, I wind up banging my head against a brick wall. This pain is induced not because of the time delay, but because of the insipid announcing. Seriously, who are those people announcing the gymnastics? Have they ever heard of the modern sports reporting concept of "play-by-play," or are they just some random ex-gymnasts who wandered in off the street? Oh, sure, in between the routines they chatter and natter about all the gossip there is to find and what the mother of each gymnast eats for breakfast, but when the routines start I haven't heard a single word of what it is that I'm actually watching. Where is the "and she's about to attempt a reverse-triple-flip-with-two-twists, one of the most difficult moves in the sport, which is scored thusly..." or even any semblance of intelligent commentary? Instead, what we get is "Oh, look, her foot's out of bounds," and the inevitable "She really stuck/didn't stick/broke her leg on the landing! Wow!" As well as incessant comments from one particular announcer who seems to believe that every Olympic medal is the sole property of any American, and that the other countries are actually insulting the USA by daring to even compete in the same arena as our all-American demigods. The jingoism is cranked up to "Fox News right before the Iraq War" levels, in fact. Even on mute, this is obvious, since competitors from other countries are never shown (at least before 2:30 in the morning), so that NBC may bring us six cameras stuck in each teen's face for every single second between the events, just in case someone cries. Who's with me on banning the in-your-face coverage on the sidelines? Anybody? Sigh.

And that's just one sport. In fact, the coverage has been so pathetic that I didn't even bother to watch to see Ann Romney's dancing horse -- the one event with crossover into the world of politics that I had really been looking forward to.

What we really need is a ban on exclusive television contracts in America for the Olympics. Let's get some free-market competition into the arena, so I never have to view Bob Costas' face ever again.

OK, I feel better after snarking off on NBC, so let's just move along to the rest of the show. We're going to honor Silly Season 2012 in the talking points this week by paying homage to Dr. Seuss, so you'll want to stick around for that. But first, let's hand out our own awards. Don't worry, you won't have to attempt to remember the words to our National Anthem to enjoy our medal podiums! Or possibly "podia," we're not exactly sure.


This may come as a surprise to some, and it certainly surprised us (seeing as how he won last week, too), but this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week is none other than fightin' Harry Reid. Now, Reid's been taking a lot of heat for playing the media like a fiddle this week, but count us among those applauding the Senate Majority Leader for taking on Mitt Romney in such a fashion.

We're really at a loss as to where this even came from, because it is the single feistiest thing we can remember Harry Reid doing, ever. Who knows what his motivation was -- whether it's because he has four years before he has to run again, whether it's because he may step down after this term, or whether he's just burnishing his Democratic chops to run for the Senate leadership position again after the election. But, whatever his reason, Reid certainly schooled a lot of folks in Bareknuckle Politics 101 this week.

Harry's gotten a lot of grief over his statement that some guy told him that Mitt Romney didn't pay any taxes for ten years. Even commentators well to the left of center have been taking Reid to task for such a vague and unsubstantiated claim. But you know what? We simply don't care. Politics, as the saying goes, ain't beanbag. The only way to exploit an opposing candidate's weaknesses is to point them out -- repeatedly, to anyone who will listen, with the wildest "what's he hiding" speculation you can muster.

Lefties (some of them, at any rate) are a bit squeamish over Reid's attack on Romney. "It sinks to their level" is what this, essentially, boils down to. Well, guess what? After a few decades of watching hapless Democrats "take the high road" as they lose elections, this is actually a refreshing change. Remember John Kerry? He took the high road. He didn't dignify the Swiftboaters with much of a response. Look where that got him. If he had been not only rebutting but also counterattacking at the time, then he might now have been in the final year of his second term in office. That's actually a scary alternate reality when you think about it, since it might mean Vice President Joe Lieberman would now be the Democratic nominee (shudder).

Mitt Romney has left himself wide open to being attacked on his secrecy on taxes. Even prominent Republicans have called on him to provide more years of tax returns to the public. What most folks don't realize is that this media storyline is about to get a gigantic boost, since August 15 is the date for late filing (Mitt filed an extension this year). So Mitt is going to -- sometime in the next two weeks -- release a second year of tax returns. I'd wager that he'll release them during the closing ceremonies to the Olympics, personally, when absolutely nobody is paying attention.

But whenever Mitt releases his return, it will wind up being a big story. Because of Harry Reid, it will now be an even bigger story -- with a lot of focus on Romney's refusal to release more years. Because of Mitt's refusal, Democrats (and the media) are free to speculate all they wish on what Mitt is hiding. Reid's was merely the most notable of such speculation, to date.

All such speculation paints Romney into a corner, where his only defense is: "Trust me, they're lying." The more the voters hear these attacks, the less inclined they may be to trust what Mitt tells them, though.

For showing how this all works, in brutally effective fashion, ex-boxer Harry Reid is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

In a surprise move, however, we're also awarding the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week to Harry Reid, as well. Not for anything he said, this week, but for refusing to release his own tax returns.

This, as you'll note, leaves Reid just as open to attack as it does Romney. It also leaves Reid open to a very valid charge of hypocrisy, for obvious reasons. If you're saying the other side isn't living up to a standard, then you'd better damn well live up to that standard yourself, if you happen to be the point man on the issue for your party.

In fact, we would like to see a new law enacted for all federal elected officials. The basic idea is that to qualify for any office, you must publicly disclose your tax returns for a period of time equal to the term of the office you run for. House members would have to provide only two years of tax returns to the public. Senate members would be required to provide six years of their taxes in order to run. The office of president is a trickier one, since it can be either four or eight years, but I think providing only four years is insufficient. It's hard to argue that prospective senators need to provide more than prospective presidents, so let's split the difference between one term and two and say presidents have to provide six years of returns as well.

Ideally, this needs to be written into law. Think it could never happen? Then you probably aren't old enough to remember the "term limits" frenzy of the 1990s. When one party or another makes politics itself a giant campaign issue, it can shame the other guys into acting. It's certainly worth a try.

But, legislative suggestions aside, we have to at least partially agree with the hordes of Reid critics this week. Not on Harry's attack per se, but on the fact that he hasn't released his own tax returns to the public. Oh, sure, you can argue that being president is a more important job to the voters than leading the Senate, but to us this is a pretty thin argument to make.

To put it in Las Vegas terms for Harry, sometimes you need to put your own cards on the table. For not doing so in the midst of the fracas he caused, Harry Reid also wins the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week.

For those who care, this is only the seventh time one person has swept both categories in our awards here. Barack Obama's done it three times, Hillary Clinton twice, and Eric Holder managed it once.

[Contact Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]

Volume 221 (8/3/12)

I came across a quote recently that I thought was worth sharing: "The God of nature, in his infinite goodness, has made the people of New England to excel every other people that ever existed in the world."

An unguarded moment from the Romney campaign? A Maine Tea Partier? One of those Kennedy cousins, perhaps? Maybe just a really rabid (more so than most, in other words) Red Sox fan?

Actually, it comes from a letter written to a newspaper almost 200 years ago, in 1814. It has nothing whatsoever to do with this week in politics, I just thought I'd share it as an example of early American (regional) jingoism, before there were modern Olympics, gymnastics announcers, or Bob Costas. You've simply got to admire such sweeping prose: "....every other people who ever existed in the world." The only thing I would suggest to modernize the quote a bit is the addition of "So there!" at the end of it.

Call it the opening ceremonies to Silly Season 2012. Because this is a momentous occasion... whoops, we're going to cut away to some blithering bag of wind interviewing Michael Phelps for 15 minutes... OK, enough Olympics jokes, I promise. Well, except for one at the end, maybe.

Anyway, we've decided that to open Silly Season, we're going to start by offering up all our entries this week in the tricky "Phrase all your talking point titles as if Dr. Seuss had written them" category. Hey, don't blame me -- 'tis the season! To make it even harder, we're going to limit this heat to one subject, chosen not-at-all at random (thanks, Harry!) -- Mitt Romney and taxes.

   I will not pay them like a cop. I will not show them like my Pop.

This one is fairly self-explanatory, for those who have been paying attention.

"Mitt Romney has shown that he is just fine with paying a tax rate well below what most of America's brave firefighters and police officers pay. He thinks that's how America should work. The people with the most pay the least, and the middle class pays higher rates. Mitt also thinks releasing two years of his own tax returns is enough, even though his own father set the gold standard by releasing twelve years of his income taxes. How far the apple has fallen from the tree, eh, Mitt?"

   I will not show them to H. Reid. "You people" saw everything you need.

Nothing screams elitism like the phrase "you people." So use it often!

"Mitt Romney complains that Harry Reid is making wild accusations about the income taxes he paid in previous years. Well, you know what? Mitt can quite easily prove Harry wrong. He refuses to do so. I wonder why that is. I guess 'you people' (as the Romneys say) just have to take Mitt's word for it that Harry Reid is wrong. Mitt could easily settle the argument, but he refuses to let 'you people' see the truth. Mitt Romney has been running for president since 2008, and there is absolutely no reason why he should have anything questionable on any tax return back to at least that date -- and yet he still refuses to prove this to the American voter. That's 'you people' -- or, as I prefer to phrase it, 'We the People.' I've heard of a sense of entitlement before, but this just takes the cake -- and eats it, too."

   What's Mitt hiding? We don't know. It's really big, or else he'd show.

This goes to the heart of the matter. Everyone is free to make their own list of what Mitt might be hiding (Salon has a dandy one up), because nothing is provable one way or the other. Don't shy away from this, hammer it home!

"What is Mitt Romney hiding in his tax returns? We simply don't know. What is so bad that Mitt is willing to take all of the negative press the issue has generated? Again, it's impossible to say. Are there more offshore accounts we don't know about? No idea. Did Mitt take advantage of the offshore account IRS amnesty in 2009? Is there some investment that is especially embarrassing? Did he give money to Planned Parenthood much later than he's let on? Did he pay pathetically small tax rates for a few years... or even a whole bunch of years? Nobody knows. That's the problem with being secretive. It leaves everyone to assume the worst. Mitt could end all this speculation immediately, but he won't do so. The only conclusion I can come to is that whatever he's hiding has got to be something pretty big, or at least pretty politically explosive for his campaign."

   Can you find Caymans on GPS? Know who else can't? IRS!

OK, something's wrong with the scansion on that one, I know. I worked on getting everything syllabically correct, but somehow couldn't quite make it work. Sorry.

"Does America really want a president with split loyalties to foreign countries? Do we really want a president who might favor countries diplomatically just because they allow Americans to use them as ATMs to avoid paying taxes? In all of American history, I cannot think of one single president who felt the need to use overseas banks and offshore accounts. Do we really want to start this trend now? We have no idea how many countries Mitt Romney has millions stashed away in. Do we really want to second-guess every decision on the global stage a president makes, to address the question whether he's acting fully in America's interests -- and not just his own financial interests? To me, that's a horrifying thing to contemplate, and I think the voters will feel the same way about Mitt's worldwide banking and his possible conflicts of interest."

   I get big tax breaks, yes I do. Guess who pays? It's folks like you!

For this title, we've simply got to share the two runners-up: "I get to pay a lower tax, and shift the load onto your backs" and "Middle class will pay two K, while me and my friends will pocket a cool quarter-million per year, thanks very much!" Well, you can see why that last one never made it out of the starting gate, I suppose.

"Mitt Romney's tax plan is going to wind up raising taxes on the middle class by two thousand dollars a year, while the wealthiest Americans get enormous new tax breaks. Mitt says his tax plan isn't going to add to the deficit, but when you hand out goodies to the wealthy on such a scale, someone has to wind up paying for it. Which means middle class taxes go up for everyone else, while the wealthy pay far, far less. President Obama now has an ad up which calls out Mitt Romney on this issue, and the fact checkers at the Washington Post gave his ad not two Pinocchios, not one Pinocchio, but in fact the total vindication of a 'Geppetto checkmark' -- something I didn't even know they handed out, due to its rarity. The fact checkers agree that Obama's ad pointing out the huge middle class tax hike Mitt Romney's tax plan would require is absolutely and unequivocally true. Never has the difference between the two parties been so easy to see. If Republicans win, taxes on the wealthy go down, taxes on the middle class go up. If Democrats win, the opposite happens. The choice could not be clearer."

   When you actually do the math, the middle class takes quite a bath!

This one was much better than the alternate: "Mitt sure hates their big conclusion, while his details stay in seclusion."

"Mitt Romney is complaining about an independent think tank report which analyzed his tax plan and came to conclusions Mitt didn't like. What's funny is that this is the same organization Mitt used to favorably cite as an excellent example of a neutral third party -- back in the primaries, when he was using their numbers to attack Newt Gingrich and his other opponents. The only thing which has changed is that Mitt doesn't like what they're saying now. They actually went out of their way to absolutely bend over backwards to fit Mitt's intentions for his tax plan to their calculations, though. They assumed that Romney would limit all popular deductions for the wealthy (as Mitt has said he'd do), and they gave Mitt a break on his rather optimistic growth rates. They still couldn't make Romney's tax plan "revenue-neutral" (as Mitt swears it is going to be) without massive tax increases on the middle class -- an average of $2,000 for everyone making under $200,000. That is the reality. That is the hard, cold math. The Republican economic plan simply does not add up without massively socking it to the middle class earners. Mitt says they made the wrong assumptions in their analysis, but you know what? If Mitt would say -- specifically -- what he'd do, instead of trumpeting the goodies while never saying how he'll pay for them, then we could all sit down and do the math together. Mitt is keeping those details in the dark, because he knows that the middle class isn't going to be getting any of the goodies -- they're going to be paying for the upper-crust mountains of goodies, instead."

   If you don't like my plan (of course), then you can kiss my dancing horse.

OK, just had to get one last Olympic shot in, here.

"Did you catch Mitt Romney's dancing horse at the Olympics? It must be nice to be able to spend the time and money teaching a magnificent purebred horse to dance... in the Olympics... with the rider on its back wearing top hat and tails. Wonder how much of that monstrous expense Mitt's written off on his income taxes? Too bad 'Rafalca' didn't win a medal, though. Maybe Mitt should buy a string of polo ponies instead, and try his luck again in four years."

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