The PJ Tatler

Is the Romney Tax Returns Story a Beltway Bubble Blip?

Beltway journalists left and right are clamoring for Mitt Romney to release more of his past tax returns. National Review, George Will, Bill Kristol…all respected conservatives who support Romney over Obama, and all are demanding that Romney release those returns. They’re all also part of the Beltway scene.

I’m writing out here in Texas, and I have to be honest: No one out here is talking about Mitt Romney’s tax returns.

Local papers, so far, do not seem to be focused on whether we ever see those tax returns or not. The Austin American-Statesman, which leans left in the central Texas blue dot, is not running anything about the tax returns issue on its front page. The Arizona Republic front page doesn’t mention the issue at all today. Neither does the San Francisco Chronicle. The Denver Post — nope.

Let’s survey a few more. The Tampa Bay Times — no. The Chicago Tribune — no. The Baltimore Sun — no. The Las Vegas Review-Journal — no. The Charlotte Observer — no. How about the Richmond Times-Dispatch? No.

Wherever I have looked, local papers in a cross section of mostly blue and swing states are not devoting significant coverage to the tax returns issue.

What is this telling us?

Local papers are mostly covering local issues, which should be of no great surprise. But while they are also including the presidential campaign as part of their daily coverage, this issue is not driving headlines or interest. Outside the Beltway, where journalists on both sides swim in the daily currents of the campaign, people care about jobs and the direction of their local communities and the nation. They don’t care much about the latest gotcha or trap that one campaign is springing on the other. The local papers’ coverage reflects that. The tax issue is generating hot interest in Washington and in the campaign headquarters in Chicago and Boston, but is not registering elsewhere and will not move votes significantly one way or the other.

There are good arguments on both sides of the tax issue. The argument for releasing them is, first, transparency, and second, to get it behind the campaign. Reality intrudes, though, as the Obama campaign has already proven it will handle any issue regarding Romney’s finances with, to say the least, shady spin. They spent last week making up a charge that Romney is a felon, when the fact is, he left Bain Capital to save the US Olympics. They based the attack on documents that have been public for more than a decade, and the question itself was vetted several times since 2002, always in Romney’s favor. There is every reason to expect that they will take advantage of Romney’s complex finances and his wealth to keep repeating similarly dishonest attacks. This week, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas declined to pressure Romney to release his returns, but many in the media are still blaring that Perry has joined the chorus applying such pressure.

As for transparency, the playing field should be level: If Romney must be an open book, then so should Obama. It is not too much to ask that the sitting president explain his past relationship with Tony Rezko, and Frank Marshall Davis, and Derrick Bell and Frances Fox-Piven and several other controversial figures he is known to have been close to. We need more than his fictitious autobiographies full of “composite” characters. Or to get closer to the present, how about turning over those Fast and Furious documents currently under Obama’s executive privilege protection. We need documents, transcripts, openness, and real transparency from Barack Obama.