One more shot at the hearty Swiss!

FRIDAY, JULY 13, 2012

Hoping the third time’s the charm: Kevin Drum commented on our second post about the “Swiss bank account” line of attack. For Drum’s take, and those of his commenters, just click here.

Nothing we say is meant as a criticism of Drum’s post, with which we semi-agree. (Although, in truth, we never much care about candidates' financial statements.)

That said, our basic reactions are unchanged. Speaking more slowly, we'll try to state them, hoping our third try's the charm:

First, we’re unconvinced that these character attacks will work. Although of course they could.

Second, we smell desperation in the air—and the smell grew more pungent last night as MSNBC sponsored extremely obscure ruminations about when Romney “really” left Bain.

Why do we smell desperation? In part, this is why:

In yesterday’s New York Times, Richard Oppel fact-checked an ad by Obama. In the process, he described some of Romney’s most basic proposals.

Romney’s proposals are simply astounding. Here’s part of what Oppel wrote:
OPPEL (7/12/12): One of the ad’s main claims—that Mr. Romney’s plan would raise taxes for 18 million working families—is accurate, according to data from the nonpartisan Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center. Assuming the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and alternative minimum tax relief, those taxpayers who would see their federal tax bills rise under the Romney plan (almost 11 percent of all filers) would have an average increase of $885, the center found. The overwhelming number of people in this category make less than $50,000...

The ad does not mention that about 118 million filers would get a tax cut under the Romney plan. That includes nearly everyone making $100,000 or more...

The ad’s other main claim—that “millionaires” would get a 25 percent cut in their average tax rate—is also accurate, the data suggests. According to Roberton Williams, senior fellow at the Urban-Brookings center, the average federal tax rate on incomes over $1 million would fall to 23.3 percent from 31.4 percent under the Romney plan, a roughly one-quarter decline.
Especially given the state of income inequality, those highlighted proposals are astounding. Almost surely, these are the craziest basic proposals in modern campaign history.

Even in this state of heightened inequality, Romney would raise taxes on 18 million families with low or moderate incomes. At the same time, he would give a very large tax cut to those whose incomes exceed $1 million.

Nearly everyone making over $100,000 would also get a tax cut.

Those are the most astounding proposals in modern campaign history. They fly in the face of the need for more revenue. They fly in the face of the very low tax rates currently paid by high earners.

We’ll guarantee you that very few voters are familiar with these proposals. Even fewer understand the surrounding facts which make them so astounding.

Yes, we know—Oppel is discussing an ad from Obama. And yet, the Democratic Party and its cable hacks are now talking almost exclusively about a (former) Swiss bank account and Romney’s date of departure from Bain.

Last night, the claims on MSNBC were so far in the weeds that the kudzu couldn’t get there. Presumably, these conversations were pleasing to true believers, who know how to view them.

For ourselves, we find it hard to believe that these ruminations will prove effective with other voters, although that could always be wrong.

That said:

For whatever reason, the Democratic Party seems to have decided that it can’t communicate about basic policy matters. Romney’s basic proposals are astounding—the craziest in modern campaign history. But our team is now working from this script: Noun verb Swiss bank account.

Will that be effective? We don’t know. It smells like desperation to us.

Traditionally, campaigns launch free-swinging character attacks when they see their chances fading. In effect, these attacks are “Hail Mary's.”

We have been getting that “Hail Mary” feeling as we’ve watched these recent attacks. And by the way, how well founded are these attacks? In this morning’s New York Times, the basic reporting is casting doubt on the gravamen of the attacks about Romney’s exit from Bain.

Last night, the same objections to Obama’s line were strong on CNN.

Meanwhile, is something actually wrong with the fact that Romney once had a Swiss bank account? We don’t know, but we feel unsure that the public will care. And even in Wednesday’s Times editorial, Romney’s potential explanations were abundantly clear. Are we sure there's a real issue here?

Maybe something more will emerge. But we’re amazed to see a (former) Swiss bank account trumping those crazy proposals.

Disinformation has ruled our world for at least several decades. Perhaps we’ve reached the point where Democrats can’t make headway on policy matters, even against basic proposals which are nearly insane.

We’d be happy to see more disclosure from Romney—but Romney’s proposals are crazy. When we talk about Swiss bank accounts in the face of such lunacy, what does that choice mean?

Last night, even the kudzu couldn’t find Lawrence. Will persuadable voters go that deep in the weeds? Everything is possible, but our lizard ain’t quite saying yes.


  1. Have you seen the reporting that focus group participants refuse to believe that Romney's proposals are in fact his proposals?

    Krugman linked today in his blog to a mention of this astounding fact.

    Many people just will not believe Romney's proposals are real.

    I wonder if the state of our media has anything to do with that.

  2. Romney's proposal will seem fair to the person who believes that poor people have not been paying their fair share of taxes. In these times of austerity, many people have adopted an every-man-for-himself mentality. They do not see any reason to help poor people because they largely blame the poor for their own condition of poverty. It is self-protective to believe that the unemployed and poor have created their own circumstances and thus deserve to suffer the consequences. Those who are struggling do not want to give up even a cent to help anyone else because they are frightened that they will wind up in the same situation. So, attacking Romney's proposals may not make sense to those who do not believe in helping others. I find myself wondering whether Obama is considering his base secure and going after so-called Independents by soft-pedaling empathy and trying to appeal to conservative sensibilities. He won't win those voters by attacking Romney because they basically agree with Romney's positions, at least emotionally.

    It is the problem with Obama in the first place -- he isn't really progressive or liberal but is a centrist trying to appeal to an increasingly conservative electorate. Can any Democrat win these days with the traditional liberal platform? I would hope yes, but Obama seems afraid to try, assuming he even is any tiny amount liberal (I see no evidence that he is).

  3. "because they basically agree with Romney's positions"

    Again, this doesn't seem to be true.

    People not only don't know what Romney's proposals really are, they actively disbelieve you when you tell them what Romney is proposing.

    "Draper explains that Burton and Sweeney couldn’t effectively sell voters on Romney’s support of the Ryan plan, since cutting Medicare in order to clear budgetary headroom for tax cuts for the rich, while an accurate description of the Ryan plan, struck those voters as so cartoonishly evil that they found the charge implausible. (“[T]he respondents simply refused to believe any politician would do such a thing.”)"

  4. I totally agree with all the anonymous posters up there. Republicans have been laying the groundwork for this with their inaccurate claim that 40+% of people pay no taxes. After repeating this claim over and over, they have prepared people to be sympathetic to an effort to raise taxes on the lowest earners. In addition, people who aren't sympathetic to this line of attack simply can't believe anyone would do it. It's the perfect setup for Romey - he can promote such a program while getting credit for wanting to do something else. I don't know how you fight back against such disinformation except with facts, but unfortunately many people don't seem to want to hear the facts, especially the mainstream press. They're excited about the big tax cuts Romney wants to give them, so they have no interest in disabusing people of their false ideas about his proposals.

    1. How would you describe the type of groundwork that the Democratic Party has been laying since, say, 1988?

  5. Republicans have been doing these sorts of things for decades, and winning with them. When Democrats do it, it smells of "desperation"? Was the whole "Al Gore claimed he invented the internet" stuff "desperation"? Any of the rest of it, most of which you have documented, "desperation"?

    You make your point better here than you have in the past, but I still think you are overstating your case. These sorts of attacks are a necessary part (part, mind you), of building a winning message. Their side does it, our side had better, or else keep losing.

    1. That's the point I was going to make. Character attacks smell of desperation? Well, they seemed to work against Gore and Kerry, didn't they?

    2. Those attacks did have the advantage that the entire media played along...

  6. Somehow the Dems have the ability to create brand new standards or hurdles for the opposition. Nobody asked whether Ted Kennedy or John Kerry had any foreign bank accounts or investments. But, out of the blue, the Dems managed to create a new hoops that a candidate must jump through.

    Another complaint: In these days of negative advertising, the Dems can portray Bain as bad -- even if they have to falsely claim that Romney outsourced jobs or that he was still running Bain at a point when he was actually working 100 hours a week to save the Olympics. In a sane world, Romney would get credit for his accomplishments in private industry. However, Kennedy and Kerry fared better. They couldn't be attacked for anything they did in private industry, because they never tried to accomplish anything there.

    1. paragraph 1: "the Dems" did this? Well, media "liberals" but that's not really the same thing.

      paragraph 2: Look, The ROMNEY is coming! With a PONY!!!

    2. You are so right, Dave. The dems here are unfairly picking on this great, highly successful guy just because he stashes some of his enormous fortune in Swiss bank accounts. This is so frustrating. How can the Republicans possiibly compete given their Sunday school, Boy Scout approach to campaigning?

  7. Ya know, Bob, you are the last person in the world with a right to complain about how small an issue is to be worth emphasizing. Is "when did Romney really leave Bain" -- which is really "to what degree is Romney responsible for the bad acts of the company for which he was CEO, chair, president, and stole stockholder?" really that picayune a subject?

    Oh, and remember your precious point about "looting"? Well, if Romney isn't on the hook for being the head of Bain after 1999, to what degree is he responsible for "looting" GST Steel, which went bankrupt after Romney's (ambiguous) departure?

  8. Also, Bob, if the Romney campaign were to do something similar, would you say they were reeeeeeking of desperation!? I highly doubt it. They'd just be doing what Republicans do, and it would probably work. But how come when Democrats do these things it gets your panties in a bunch? The much loathed (by you) Kevin Drum has noted--accurately--that character attacks were nuclear effective against Al Gore and John Kerry. But somehow you're not convinced that these things will work against Romney? Bob, I never figured you for a pearl clutcher. You among all, should be hyper-aware of how devastating these tactics can be. Do you feel Democrats should unilaterally disarm? Why? Fascinating. Christ, you're sounding more Kaus every day.

    Here's a clue, Bob, the general public sees no "desperation" in these attacks. The only people who see such are people exactly like you--D list bloggers and spinmeisters who WANT to see it. Go figure.

    1. I'm not sure why you are in such a dither about this post. The post harkens back to Daily Howler's excellent output of yesteryear. The point is made that Romney is making the "most astounding[ly awful] proposals in campaign history," yet the press in substance avoids this enormous fact. I am sure that Bob is right that the public s more or less in the dark about what his proposals amount to. I do believe that romney is a plutocrat and the Swiss bank accounts are relevant and should be discussed, but the major point is that the press refuses to examine what Romney and the Republicans are actually proposing - whether because they are jaded, corporate flunkies, stupid or whatever.

    2. I disagree. Because the press isn't aggressively examining Romney's outrageous proposals doesn't mean that character attacks on him won't work and won't appeal to the voting public. What's boggles is Bob's reticence to use strategies that clearly work, and--like in the case of his hero, Gore--can be devastating. Worse is his labeling of those strategies as "desperate." What hogwash. He's knows they're no such thing.

  9. Obama, as President, earned 30% of his multi-million dollar income from foreign sources. His substantial foreign income tax offset his US income tax, thus depriving the US government of that amount.

    in the three tax years in which Barack Obama has been President (2009, 2010, and 2011), fully 30.1% of the Obamas’ gross income has come from foreign sources: ($2,711,340 out of a 3-year total gross income of $8,993,449). In 2009, 26.5% of the Obamas’ gross income came from foreign sources. In 2010 it was a whopping 41.4%, and in 2010 it was 30.2%.

    The salary that we taxpayers pay him as President (just under $1.2 million over the 3 years) accounted for less than 13% of the Obamas’ income, a share dwarfed by their 30% from foreign sources over the same period.

    From 2009 through 2011, the Obamas paid $87,429 in foreign taxes, which they applied toward a credit to reduce their U.S. tax bill.

    Will AnonymousJuly 14, 2012 10:00 AM or other poster criticize the President "stashing" his money abroad?

    IMHO this is a silly issue. There's nothing illegal or immoral about investing money abroad.

  10. David, you insist that Romney paid the IRS all the taxes he owed.

    How do you know, are you his accountant?

    1. OK, gravymeister. For all we know, Romney may have underpaid his taxes. And, for all we know Obama may have underpaid his taxes.

      However, for the sake of rational discussion, I prefer to take it for granted that a candidate hasn't commited some nefarious act, unless there's evidence that he did so.

    2. Yeah, innocent until proven guilty!

      And if Romney never releases his tax returns, there's no way to prove him guilty, so therefore he will be innocent! QED! Ain't this rational thinkin' stuff grand?

  11. Romney is not on trial here.
    Persons on trial in the United States cannot be compelled to testify in court.

    However, every attorney knows that the jury wants to hear the defendant declare his innocence, and, regardless of any instruction by the judge, they jurors will fault the defendant for not testifying.

    The defense does not have to prove innocence, only reasonable doubt about guilt.

    If Romney has nothing to hide, all he has to do is open his books.

    After all, we are not acquitting him of murder, only making him the leader of the Free World.

    No big deal.

    1. g-meister -- the trouble is you're starting with an accusation for which there is no evidence. There's no reason to believe Romney cheated on his taxes.

      Try this example:

      Barack Obama may have raped a woman while in college or law school. He must release his full academic records in order to prove he's not a rapist.

      I'm sure you can see how silly that reasoning is. Your claim that Romney must disprove a crime, when there's no reason to believe that he committed that crime, is just as silly.

    2. David, did you read the article in this month's Vanity Fair about Romney's financial and tax situation? What about his $106,000,000 IRA? Also, there is no comparison between Mitt's complex financial maize and Obama.

      Arnold in MA

  12. David,
    You are leaping to conclusions.
    Nowhere have I accused Mitt Romney of tax fraud, or even implied it.

    On the contrary, all along you have insisted he has paid all taxes due.

    Nowhere have I said he has to prove innocence.

    I am just telling you that he will pay a price at the polls if he doesn't come clean. To the general public, concealment IS deception, whether you happen to agree or not.

    It is fair play for his political opponents to pander to that prejudice, as ALL the exalted Republicans candidates did during the primaries.

    I DO care if he has cheated on his taxes because it means others have to make up the loss.

    But I am OUTRAGED that he has manipulated his 401k, which was specifically designed to prevent millionaires from using it as a tax dodge.

    You could argue that he will have to pay taxes on it when he withdraws the money.

    But I would counter that he could turn it over to his heirs, or better yet, change the laws if Republicans win the White House and Senate.

    Anyone smart enough to put millions in a 401k could easily evade taxes upon withdrawal.

    IMHO, Mitt Romney is not the cream that inevitably rises to the top of society, but the scum that floats on sewage.

    If you want to vote for him, please yourself; But do so knowing full well he is neither Snow White nor prince.

    1. This is what I meant when I talked about special hoops for Republicans to jump through. You have no evidence that Romney broke any law nor any reason to think he did so. So, a new hoop is created:

      Romney legally paid less tax than he otherwise might have done by taking advantage of a law that you don't think was aimed at rich people.

      Note that this standard was never applied to wealthy Dems like Kerry, Kennedy, Pelosi, etc. Nobody called them scum because they followed the law but took full advantage of legal ways to reduce their tax.

      Most of us try the pay less tax if we can legally do so. Romney and/or his tax lawyers and accountants took advantage of the actual tax law. There's nothing wrong with that.

      AnonymousJuly 14, 2012 6:55 PM asks, "What about his $106,000,000 IRA?" If you're arguing that it must be fraudulent, I can tell you that the law permits certain retirement funds to be rolled over into one's IRA. I took advantage of that law myself when I retired from one employer. This may be how Romney got so large an IRA.

    2. You say "maybe" Romney rolled over some (tax deferred) retirement funds to accumulate a $106,000,000 IRA. However, Michael Maremont wrote in the Wall St. Joournal that the most likely explanation is that when Bain bought companies, it created two classes of stock, "A" class and "L" class. The "A" shares were risky common stock and assigned very low values. Most of the value was put in the "L" shares, which were high interest preferred stock with the pay off frozen. The "A' stock were put in the Bain employees' IRA's where they could grow tax free. Huge gains could be made in this manner. You should read Nicholas Shaxson's article in this month's Vanity Fair raising serious questions about this. Whether Romney committed tax fraud or merely was "pushing the envelope" can't be determined without looking at the relevant tax returns, which Romney refuses to allow, strongly sugesting that he is hiding something.

    3. I found an article in the WSJ by Mark (not Michael) Maremont at

      Maremont speculates that Romney may have used some ways to get foreign holdings into his IRA while avoiding a tax called UBIT. Maremont makes no assertion that such techniques were illegal. On the contrary, he quotes a University of Pennsylvania law professor, who said that using offshore blocker corporations to avoid UBIT "is a form of tax planning that happens all the time."

      Romney's tax returns are more likely to be legal than mine. My wife and I do our returns ourselves. We may have made legal errors. OTOH Romney's returns were undoubtedly prepared and reviewed by expert tax accountants and lawyers. There's every reason to assume that these lawyers used their expertise to make sure the returns were legal.

  13. We're out in the weeds, attacking Romney with slime.

    Slime that may or may not stick.

    Slime we probably won't have complete media cooperation in spreading.

    Slime that may in fact cut both ways.

    We all hope it will stick. He *is* a terrible, dangerous candidate.


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