07/22/2012 09:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES : Accen-tu-ate the Negative: Mitt Hides Taxes? Yes. Barack Hates U.S. & Business? Nah.

Ron Reagan and Mary Matalin debate when mud sticks. In finding an alleged Muslim mole at State, Michele Bachmann showed herself to be, in Joan Walsh's pungent phrase, "a McCarthy with lipstick." But this week also saw salvos that again question Obama's roots and loyalties. Wasn't this litigated in 2008 when he won by over eight million votes? Is criticism of Romney's tax and SEC filings the equivalent of criticism of Obama's patriotism?

On Attacking Romney for Tax Returns. It's Week Two on Romney's hidden finances now that The National Review, The Wall Street Journal and numerous GOP luminaries (Perry, Paul, Scarborough, Kristol, Will, Dowd... ) have urged Romney to disclose more than one year of his tax returns.

Reagan argues that stonewalling for the 110 days until the election will be a "drip, drip, drip" that will be very damaging since the presumptive nominee, a cost-benefit efficiency expert, sure looks like he has something to hide. Mary vigorously disagrees, concluding that more isn't required, that it would only boost Obama's negative research and that folks "care more about their taxes than Romney's." Why then are Ann Romney and she about the only people sticking up for Mitt? "Never send a man to do a woman's job," she cheerfully responds. As for those "armchair warriors" urging more disclosure based on George Romney's example, "they're playing under the old rules and, respectfully, are wrong. Guess what -they're not the nominee."

Ron adds that this is not merely a process/procedural issue but one that reflects character. Romney looks like a guy "who is entitled and plays by his own set of rules." Mary wonders why "rich Democratic candidates aren't similarly questioned, like John Kerry"? Ron reminds us that it was his wife not running for president who had the big portfolio, not him -- and he released tax returns for every year in the Senate.


On Attacking Obama for... whatever. The Romney outrage machine struck back at Obama by first questioning his much-publicized comments in Roanoke that businesses need individual initiative and public roads/bridges/education to succeed. Mary agrees with Romney that this comment in historic context shows Obama's to be a "spread the wealth around" collectivist. But speaking of this specific context, Ron asserts that Romney is simply "lying" in an ad that omits part of the quote that makes it obvious Obama's "you didn't build that" refers to roads, not companies. Indeed, Romney himself later made the exact same point, one that reflects E. J. Dionne's new book, The Divided American Heart, namely that that the American story is one of balancing individualism and community.

Lying? Mary retorts that Obama is one too since he called Romney a "felon." Ron replies that it wasn't Obama but aide Stephanie Cutter who said that because, factually, if Romney signed false SEC documents about his role at Bain Capital '99-'01, "it would be a felony."

Then we listen to Limbaugh, Sununu and Romney saying, respectively, that "Obama hates America," that he smoked weed and spent time in Indonesia and that he had "foreign" views. Ron hotly asks Mary if it would OK then for Obama's campaign to say that "Romney hates America"? He adds that this mudslinging may appeal to "those mouthbreathers in the GOP base who already believe he's a Kenyan socialist but will repel that 6 percent of swing voters who will decide the election."

Mary doesn't think that any of the men went too far in their attacks. Isn't it smarter for the Republicans to focus almost exclusively on the economy given weak numbers or continue to assail Obama so personally? "Both," she answers, maintaining that Limbaugh is right that Obama "is dismantling America brick-by-brick."

On Who Will Get the Silver for Veep. The panelists weigh in on who will be asked to join the GOP ticket. In an era of strong VPs like Cheney and Biden, they agree that the criteria are who could be president if necessary, would "do no harm" to Romney, who gets along with him personally and, in Mary's words, "has real Washington experience since we're in a mess."

What about the Beltway conclusion that it's down to Tim Pawlenty and Rob Portman? Our Republican expert notes that Pawlenty has "an everyman appeal and was a red governor in a blue state [Minnesota]" while Portman is really smart and respected. Will his years at OMB under Bush be a liability given the poor economic performance that led to the Great Recession, the Host asks? Mary thinks that credential would be an asset. And she tosses out the name of Paul Ryan as an o-wow pick. Ron thinks it's an "oh-no" choice because of his Medicare voucher proposal -- then there's talk of Gov. McDonnell of Viriginia since, like Portman's Ohio, it's a swing state. (No Rubio or Ayotte mentions.)

Last, Mr. Reagan is asked if it's true that former president Gerald Ford offered himself as a sort of VP "co-president" to his father in 1980? The son confirms that he and Mike Deaver listened to the ex-prez make his case to the future-prez, both hoping (and believing) that Dutch would say no. (Host: using history as a guide, son and father were vindicated.)

*Quick Takes: Lin/Weiner. Katie's Liberation. Punishing PA and JoPa. With Linsanity over and enroute to Houston and Anthony Weiner considering an NYC comeback, the panel is asked about other toast to toast-of-town to toast stories. Mary talks about this being a country of second chances, citing the Clintons in particular. Ron goes with Nixon and Bo Jackson.

Then neither regard Katie Holmes's choreographed escape from her husband's celebrity and religion as particularly noteworthy -- and they also agree that Joe Paterno's statue at Beaver Stadium should be taken down [it was the next day]. And there's consensus that the next football season not be cancelled because that would punish innocent students. To maintain both sides, the Host focuses not on innocent Penn State students but innocent abused kids. "You punish the school which was part of the coverup in order to deter other institutions."

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.

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