Selective Transparency

Barack Obama released his tax returns today for the years 2000-2006. (Check them out here , if combing through your own tax returns hasn’t been torture enough.) But Obama held public office for three years before 2000 hit. Why not release those as well and get the whole thing done with?

Symbolism would be my guess. The years between 2000 and 2006 is the exact span of time from which Hillary Clinton has yet to release her (and her husband’s) tax returns. Releasing those specific years, as opposed to the entire batch, turns a capitulation (Clinton has been calling for him to release them) into a challenge.

The parallels here are rich. During her 2000 Senate campaign, Clinton opened up her own records as far back as 1980 and made a big deal about her opponent’s refusal to release his own. Now the roles are flipped, with Obama revealing his taxes and challenging Clinton to do the same. Her rebuttal: She has 20 years of taxes on the books, compared to Obama’s six. Not a bad way to call attention to Obama’s relatively meager time spent in the public eye, but he’s still got her beat on the past eight years.

Neither candidate is glasslike in his or her transparency. Obama hasn’t opened up his personal papers and schedules from his time as a state senator. (He claims they’re badly organized or thrown away.) But Clinton’s refusal to release her tax returns until April—she’ll do it at least three days before the Pennsylvania primary, her camp assures us—should raise eyebrows. At least, with her White House schedules, she could use the Presidential Library’s dinosaur pace as an excuse. There’s nothing stopping her from releasing her taxes today, tomorrow, or the next day. If there’s anything damaging in there, better to get it out of the way now than right before a key election. If there’s not, she gets points for openness.

So how about it?