Eugene Robinson Live

Aug 07, 2012

Robinson discussed his latest columns and political news.

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Hi, everyone, and welome to our weekly discussion. Politics on the agenda today, along with the Sikh killings and whatever else you want to talk about. Let's get started.

Mr Robinson, In today's column you say, "Only the candidate can 'put up.'" That's not true at all. Senator Reid can provide his "source." Then, unless he can name someone who actually DOES have intmate knowledge of Governor Romney's personal income tax returns, which seems highly unlikely, we'll all know Senator Reid made it all up and is, in fact, lying. What I want to know from you is why are you perfectly comfortable with - indeed cheering - the shifting of the burden of proof from the accuser to the accused?

Wait a minute. Harry Reid says he hears Romney paid no taxes. Romney says it's not true, but he won't show anyone the proof. Only Romney, it seems to me, can definitively establish the facts. Either you think the whole issue is unimportant -- in which case it doesn't matter who Reid's source is or even that he has one -- or you think Romney's taxes should be released. If the latter, then only Romney can provide the information because he's the only one who has it.

Romney could use a pick like Christie to distract from the tax issue (Christie's pugnatiousness would help in that regard), but I think he's likely to pick Pawlenty. But my question is - do you think Romney's pick will follow the boss's lead and only release 1 or 2 years of tax returns ? If he does more then it shows the boss up, but if that is all he does then it becomes team secrecy !

Good question -- I hadn't thought of that. Seems to me that if Mitt says one year with a promise of a second is good enough, his veep has to toe the line.

What common good is served by the release of Romney's tax returns prior to 2010? If there is some legitimate concern that Governor Romney engaged in criminal activity, is that not the jurisdiction of the IRS? Alternatively, if Mr. Romney used the legal expedients available through the tax code, is that code not a component of the infrastructure Mr. Obama suggest government provides to foster individual success?

Examining a presidential candidate's tax returns is not intended to be a criminal investigation. It's a way for candidates to demonstrate to the American people how they live their lives -- and that they have nothing to hide. If Gov. Romney doesn't want to make that demonstration, well, that's his right. And people can draw whatever conclusions they choose.

I'm trying to imagine how you would have reacted in 2008 had Mitch McConnell claimed that someone in Harvard's admission department called him and said that candidate Obama had skated in purely on the basis of affirmative action despite terrible undergraduate grades, that he wouldn't reveal his source, and all candidate Obama had to do to settle the truthfulness of this claim was release his college transcripts (which the President has never released). I am sure you would have decried the horrible tactics of terrible rightwingers, and I think you would also have said racism caused McConnell to act in this way. But you smirkingly approve of Reid's actions, which makes you a hypocrite.

If Mitch McConnell had claimed that candidate Obama didn't pay income taxes for ten years, I'd have called on Obama to release his tax returns. Oh, right, he did. You can talk about grades all you want, and maybe we should expect all presidential candidates to release them. But we already DO expect them to release their income tax returns.

thanks for the chat Gene. It seems to me there is a HUGE disconnect between the Conservatives in Britain, and the ones in the States. The Brits seem much more moderate and inclined to compromise, hence we all saw how well Obama and Cameron got along. My take is that as long as the moderates don't have a major role in the GOP, the party is doomed to not win the White House. Romney is perceived to be moderate, but his pandering to the "base" has raised serious questions as to his ability to lead the country, not just his rather far right base. The TP showed the world last summer with the debt ceiling debacle that they won't back down, even when it hurts the nation as a whole. GOP leaders in Congress haven't had much luck containing the more extreme members of their party.

All true. The Conservative Party in Britain is fully committed to the National Health Service, which really is socialized medicine (as opposed to the un-socialized reforms of the Affordable Care Act). Moderate Republicans are a vanishing breed. Those who remain are biding their time for an opportunity to take back the party from the extremist right wing.

Hi Gene, Initially I didn't even give a thought to Mitt's tax returns. I expect him to take advantage of every loophole in the tax code because that is why they were put there. Most of us would not save enough to pay an accountant to find every tax break, but with his income it makes since for Mitt to do it. Now that he won't release his taxes I suspect something worse. No idea what, but his refusal to open them just causes suspicion. He is like a kid hiding something behind his back that answers "nothing" when you ask "what do you have?"

That's the irony. Nobody expects Romney to file a 1040EZ. Obviously, with that kind of wealth, his returns will be complex -- and will reflect his having taken advantage of the provisions of the tax code, which is what everyone does. So what's the big deal? Why not just put it all out there on a Friday evening in the middle of the summer, and the story dies down by the middle of the following week. The only logical conclusion is that Romney believes the damage he will suffer from whatever's in those tax returns is worse than the damage he's suffering by not releasing them.

The way I see it, Reid is using the "birther" approach. He has no proof, but he believes he doesn't need any. In this poisonous environment, all you have to do accuse someone of something and make them prove you wrong. I don't necessarily agree with what he's done, but turnabout is fair play, I guess.

I'll just note that while President Obama must have seen the "birther" nonsense as ridiculous and unfair, he did ask Hawaii officials to release his long-form birth certificate.

I'm an Obama supporter but I think Sen. Reid has undermined Obama because his charge that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years is so extreme that few people believe it. And if it turns out that Romney paid a ridiculously low 5 percent, that will still amount to millions of dollars more than Reid claimed--thus turning Romney into a winner on this issue. Don't you think Reid should have kept his mouth shut?

I have no source with inside knowledge of Romney's taxes. But if it were true that he paid "a ridiculously low 5 percent" on income of tens of millions of dollars, I seriously doubt this is a winning issue for him.

So for the second time in a week, governor Romney and his campaign have outright lied about President Obama's actions- first by saying he was trying to strip military voting rights, when he is actually protecting early voter rights in Ohio for all voters, but especially lower socioeconomic and minority voters, and now by saying President Obama had "gutted " work to welfare when he had done no such thing (that would take an act of congress). How should the media treat these outright lies and do they have a responsibility to say there are lies, rather than just reporting what was said?

I think you call a lie what it is.

I am not a closet conspiracy theorist nor do I wear tin foil on my head but this whole Romney/Reid tax thing just seems too easy for the presumptive Republican nominee. I just can't help but think that they have been planning all along to disclose his tax returns but are playing with the Democrats. Now that they're all whipped up into a frenzy, when the tax returns are disclosed and there is no "there" there they'll look like chumps. I know, it's weird, but the Republicans just have not been like Republicans in this campaign. THEY'RE the ones who are supposed to do this kind of stuff. More often than not they've just been whinning and reacting instead of channeling Lee Atwater and Karl Rove.

If this is all a diabolical set-up, it'll go down in history. With the Obama campaign doing all it can to define Romney in the public's mind as a selfish rich guy who owns a car elevator and a dancing horse, now would be the time to spring the trap. Since nothing is springing, you have to wonder if there isn't a bunch of "there" there.

While it looks like Portman or Pawlenty are VP finalists, is Romney really having his pick of the litter to choose from, or is he sifting thru table scraps similar to the Presidentail candidates / primaries? Since many of the establishment R's chose not to run for POTUS, like Daniels, Jeb Bush, etc. - and same for Christie, even Palin - they all wound up with Romney. Is this true also for the VP pick and Romney more or less has to settle for T-Paw, Portman, or Jindal? Or are there a lot of folks fighting to be Romney's pick?

Politicians don't turn down the vice-presidential nomination. If asked, they will serve. Basically, every one of them.

Gene, the more that this campaign goes on, the more you start to realize that Mr. Romney's team was only prepared for the GOP contest. They don't appear to be able to handle the presidential campaign with the same vigor and competence. If/when they lose in November, are we going to point to July as the period where they fumbled away the presidency?

If Romney loses in November, the Republicans who now privately complain about the team running the campaign will go public. If Romney were to win, his campaign team would be hailed as a bunch of geniuses.

Gene, Mr. Romney appears to be in a hole against Mr. Obama as it pertains to foreign policy. His trip took him back a step and none of his potential VP's are international or foreign policy heavyweights, or heck even lightweights. What can Mr. Romney do to mitigate the gap there like Mr. Obama's attempting to do with the economy gap? Secondly, if the public doesn't accept Mr. Romney's team's competence on this issue, at what point does that filter into the polls?

Romney and his campaign advisers believe the economy is the issue that will decide the election. My guess is that they believe they only have to show that Romney is credible as a world leader -- hence the foreign trip. My view is that he certainly didn't help himself with the trip and may have hurt himself, especially if events overseas make foreign policy more important to voters.

Gene, all of the presidential metrics pointed towards a defeat of the president. Mr. Romney emerged as the GOP's candidate and he was considered the best chance as a moderate, generic Republican to defeat Mr. Obama. With the race stagnated at a slight victory towards the president, does this reflect on how poor the GOP field was that their best candidate is still behind or would a strong GOP candidate (Jeb Bush) be in the same boat?

A Republican with Jeb Bush's relatively moderate views and considerable political skills would be a very tough opponent for President Obama.

Twice you've been given the opportunity in this very chat to show some semblence of impartiality and both times you've declined. Bottom line is that you refuse to condemn a despicable accusation because it's made against a man whose succes you envy. How do you sleep at night?

Like a baby. And I don't know how to break this to you, but I'm an opinion columnist. My opinions are grounded in progressive values, and while the Democratic Party certainly ain't perfect, the Republican Party has been body-snatched by extreme right-wingers whose policies will lead to less opportunity, more inequality and inevitable decline. Since you asked.

I was surprised that the shooting in WI was called domestic terrorism so quickly. Is this unusual and reflects a change in thinking, or have I not been paying attention to other recent incidents of this type?

The technical explanation being given now is that the shooting received this designation because it is being investigated by the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI. But I think local officials originally applied that designation because that's what the shooting looked like -- a lone wolf heavily armed while male indiscriminately gunning down people who look different and exotic.

Since Mitt Romney is an extremely successful investor, do you think that he would buy stock in XYZ Inc. if it only provided him with one year of financial statements, along with incomplete information for a second year? Or do you think that he would insist on more historical data before making his final decision?

Your question answers itself.

Has Romney ever said he's paid "Income Tax" every year? The quote I've seen is that he's paid "a lot of taxes" but that could cover a gamut of taxes that don't include income tax (e.g. real estate, FICA, medicare) which even a skilled CPA could not do anything about - either you own the property or you don't - but income tax is certainly one area that a professional could limit his ultimate liability. I don't blame him for trying to limit his liability - however the returns could certainly show how the Code is slanted to the more affulent...

I noticed that, too. When I heard his quote, I thought "sales taxes, real estate taxes..." But of course we won't know how much he paid in income taxes unless he releases the returns, will we?

What happens when the VP is asked how many years of tax returns he gave to Romney?

A lot of rhetorical tap-dancing, that's what.


And that's all the tap-dancing I get to do today, folks. My time is up. Thanks for a stimulating hour, and I'll see you again next week.

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and has received numerous journalism awards.
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