11/05/2012 06:11 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2013

Mitt Romney's Not-So-Magical Mystery Tour

One day to go, and all politically obsessed Americans have paper bags on standby to breathe into if their side tanks.

On Tuesday, we'll all choose between Barack Obama's substantive, if imperfect, record in tough times, and Mitt Romney's mirage of ever-shifting poses -- his not-so-magical mystery tour that I'm hoping is not coming to take the president away.

You've all heard the arguments against a Romney presidency from liberals like me. So let's turn for a change to an arch-conservative, a man who hates Barack Obama, but who nonetheless captured Mitt Romney's entire campaign and persona to perfection during the Republican primaries. Here, according to, is what Erick Erickson, founder of, had to say about the Republican nominee on Nov. 8, 2011, one year ago:

Mitt Romney... is a man devoid of any principles other than getting himself elected. As much as the American public does not like Barack Obama, they loath a man so fueled with ambition that he will say or do anything to get himself elected. Mitt Romney is that man.

I've been reading the 200 pages of single spaced opposition research from the John McCain campaign on Mitt Romney. There is no issue I can find on which Mitt Romney has not taken both sides. He is neither liberal nor conservative. He is simply unprincipled.

Erickson now backs Romney, but nothing much about the candidate has changed in the last year. He continues to present himself as all things to all people, making up his own "facts" along the way.

But that intentional inscrutability is not the only way in which Romney's campaign has been a mystery tour. As the Washington Post noted Saturday, in an editorial titled "Mitt Romney's Campaign Insults Voters," the indecipherable, if not blank, slate that is Mitt Romney incorporates not only his ever-shifting positions but also his opaque financial support, his well-hidden wealth and his undisclosed tax payments.

Writes The Post:

Defying recent bipartisan tradition, he failed to release the names of his bundlers -- the high rollers who collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations. He never provided sufficient tax returns to show voters how he became rich.

Throughout this $2 billion presidential campaign, Super PACs flying below the radar have disproportionately supported the GOP and been secretive about whom they represent.
As The New York Times noted Oct. 26, "wealthy donors have been pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the 2012 presidential and congressional elections, mostly in support of Republicans." This rush of money has increased in recent days, The Times notes, appearing in donations from PACs no one has even heard of before.

So one question about mystery Mitt has to be to whom would he be beholding should he win?

Other unanswered questions include just how much money has he secreted out of the United States and just how little has he paid in taxes? Romney has told us precious little about either. Vanity Fair offered some hints to his out-of-country wealth in its investigation. But most of the American news media dropped the ball months ago without continuing to press Romney to disclose his wealth or tax returns, despite the fact that he's one of the wealthiest men to ever seek the presidency.

The last hint came on Sept. 21, when the Romney campaign announced that he had paid 14 percent on an adjusted gross income of $13.7 million in 2011. His accountants wrote a letter saying his tax rate had never fallen below 13.66 percent from 1990 to 2009. But they offered no proof and no details, just a letter. And then the American news media went to sleep. [Not apparently the Dutch media, however. Today, according to, "investigative reporters at a quality Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant, published a story that Mitt Romney avoided $100 million in dividend taxes using a complex route that ran through The Netherlands."]

For the record, the U.S. Tax Table reports that the tax rate for a couple, married and filing jointly in 2011 with a combined taxable income of $100,000 was 17.2 percent. It crossed the threshold of 14 percent for those filing jointly and earning just a bit more than $70,000 a year. (That threshold is considerably lower for individuals.)

That's right, Mitt Romney paid a lower rate than, say, a couple filing jointly and earning a taxable income of $75,000.

It's safe to say that we at least know that Mitt Romney, mystery candidate, has a good accountant. But when it comes to his wealth and finances, that's about all we know.

Barack Obama, in contrast is not offering Americans a magical mystery tour. He's released more than a decade of his tax returns. And he has a record. He has significant accomplishments, some failures and a history of enduring despite an obstinate Republican opposition that has for four years had one overriding goal -- to defeat him for re-election. (This is the same party within which mystery candidate Romney is now trying to sell himself as a paragon of bipartisanship.)

So what is a good measure of Obama's record? I'd urge you to read what the staff of the New Yorker magazine had to say (click the link). It ended its thoughtful Obama endorsement with these words.

The choice is clear. The Romney-[Paul] Ryan ticket represents a constricted and backward-looking vision of America: the privatization of the public good. In contrast, the sort of public investment championed by Obama -- and exemplified by both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act -- takes to heart the old civil-rights motto "Lifting as we climb." That effort cannot, by itself, reverse the rise of inequality that has been under way for at least three decades. But we've already seen the future that Romney represents, and it doesn't work.

As the electorate heads to the polls Tuesday, paper bags close by, Barack Obama leads key states and national polls by a nose. But polls don't win elections, people do. Who votes, where and in what numbers will determine the outcome of this election.

Every vote matters -- yours included.