Romney: I’m a Businessman not a Business, Man

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 09: Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney enters an Upper East Side fundraising event in Manhattan on August 9, 2012 in New York City.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

As you may recall, a common argument on the Republican side is that if you raise taxes on high-income individuals you’re raising taxes on small businesses because most small firms are organized as “pass-through” entities. In other words, the business doesn’t file tax forms and doesn’t pay corporate income tax. Instead the funds simply flow to the owners (typically one person or a small number of partners) and then they pay taxes on the money. But when speaking to Bloomberg Businessweek about releasing his own tax returns, Romney’s response was essentially I’m a businessman not a business, man:

I’m not a business. We have a process in this country, which was established by law, which provides for the transparency which candidates are required to meet. I have met with that requirement with full financial disclosure of all my investments.

Now Romney is right—he’s not under any legal obligation to disclose more about his tax situation. But as he well knows “the great majority of small businesses pay taxes at the individual rate” so the issue of your tax status and your ontological status as a business are unrelated.

On some level—whatever. Romney keeping his personal finances secret is perfectly legal. But I think Peter Beinart’s argument that this is all irrelevant proves way too much. Far and away the most important consideration when picking a president is his party affiliation. And that’s why something like 80-90 percent of the electorate reliably votes for the same party’s presidential candidate year after year. But the campaign, by definition, is about that very small minority of voters who lacks consistent policy preferences. Within that small universe of people who are voting the man (or, someday, the woman) rather than the party label who among us is to say what’s relevant? Romney is trying to persuade people that his business acumen is a good reason to vote for him, while Obama is trying to argue that his business acumen reveals shady dealings and anti-social behavior. The taxes are clearly relevant to that dispute and Romney’s taxes are part of the story of his overall business career.