Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s most recent foray into presidential politics – claiming someone had told him that Mitt Romney had paid no taxes for ten years but refusing to corroborate the accuser’s name or the charge has the stench of McCarthyism.
During the Cold War, the late Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy held hearings to rout out Communists and famously waved in the air what he claimed were lists of subversives in the State Department or in the army. He never documented his claims, and ultimately McCarthy himself was censured for tactics that we all know today as McCarthyism.
Reid says only that he got the information on Romney from a Bain investor and that, if the charge is not true, Romney can prove it by revealing his tax returns, something Romney seems to have no intention of doing.
Clearly, voters deserve more information from Romney than he has been willing to provide, whether we are talking about just where he would make budget cuts or how he may have used a complex tax code to lawfully avoid paying taxes. His father set the standard for presidential candidate financial disclosure, and there are legitimate questions about how Mitt Romney may have organized his personal and business affairs in the runup to and during the Great Recession. Even some fellow Republicans have said the questions are legitimate and urged he be more forthright.
The public seems to infer from his refusal to go beyond releasing his 2010 return and his 2011 estimate that the GOP candidate has something to hide, and, indeed, Romney’s unfavorability rating has ticked upward in recent weeks, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll.
But it’s Harry Reid’s tactics are driving the debate right now, and no Democrat that I know of has condemned the apparent smear. In fact, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi played along, saying that “it’s true that ‘someone told Harry Reid that.'”
Reid insists that the burden of proof is on Mitt Romney to show he did pay taxes, and even many Republicans want the returns released so they can put the issue behind them. Certainly Reid has succeeded in keeping the issue alive. As the Christian Science Monitor notes, Reid may be bluffing, but he’s winning. And Reid himself won’t be facing the voters until 2016, so he has nothing electorally to lose by doing this. Still, it’s enough to make even hardened cynics want to take to the showers.