Chuck Todd: I also want to follow up on an answer you just gave to Nancy. You said that one of the reasons you wanted to see Mitt Romney’s tax returns was you want to see if everybody is playing by the same set of rules. That actually goes to the question she asked, which is this implication, do you think there’s something Mitt Romney is not telling us in his tax returns that indicates he’s not playing by the same set of rules?
THE PRESIDENT: No. There’s a difference between playing by the same sets of rules and doing something illegal. And in no way have we suggested the latter. But the first disclosure, the one year of tax returns that he disclosed indicated that he used Swiss bank accounts, for example. Well, that may be perfectly legal, but I suspect if you ask the average American, do you have one and is that part of how you manage your tax obligations, they would say no. They would find that relevant information, particularly when we’re going into a time where we know we’re going to have to make tough choices both about spending and about taxes.
So I think the idea that this is somehow exceptional, that there should be a rationale or a justification for doing more than the very bare minimum has it backwards. I mean, the assumption should be you do what previous presidential candidates did, dating back for decades. And Governor Romney’s own dad says, well, the reason I put out 10 or 12 years is because any single year might not tell you the whole story. And everybody has, I think, followed that custom ever since.
The American people have assumed that if you want to be President of the United States, that your life is an open book when it comes to things like your finances. I’m not asking him to disclose every detail of his medical records — although we normally do that as well — (laughter.) You know? I mean, this isn’t sort of overly personal here, guys. This is pretty standard stuff. I don’t think we’re being mean by asking him to do what every other presidential candidate has done — right? It’s what the American people expect.
I have emphasized five portions of this single answer.
“Playing by the same sets of rules” implies that Mitt Romney didn’t, which of course is a crime when it comes to taxes. There is one tax code. Either you abide by it or you don’t. If the president believes that offshore bank accounts ought to be illegal, he has never campaigned on it and has never asked Congress to alter the tax code to outlaw such accounts. If he believes tax minimization is illegal, he hasn’t lived up to his own rule because he takes deductions. In short, this is smarmy and low, a sort of leering insinuation of the Monty Python category of “candid photographs,” and shocking to hear from a president.
“If you ask the average American…” sets the president up as judge and jury of this question, but it is the wrong question. “If you ask the average American what is on their mind” is the much better question and it has in fact been asked and answered over and over again. That answer is of course jobs and the economy, but the president cannot spend any time on that and, incredibly, the White House press corps let the president spend 15 minutes without a request for comment or forecasts about unemployment in the country.
“The assumption should be you do what previous presidential candidates did…” is an outright lie. John McCain –the president’s previous opponent and thus the most relevant to the standard he is attempting to assert– released two years of taxes and that is Romney’s commitment. The president is deceiving the public here, and again the White House press corps is complicit and acquiescent.
“Open book.” Laughable, and not because of Columbia and Harvard Law transcripts or the relationships with Jeremiah Wright, Bill Ayers or any of hundred other interesting questions, but because of the president’s refusal to meet with the press and discuss the smoking ruins of his first four years in detail and responsively as opposed to his retreat to filibuster and obfuscation. As simple a matter as the bogus assertion of executive privilege with regard to the Fast & Furious documents makes this “open book” standard a laugher, but one the White House press corps missed.
“It’s what the American people expect.” From the man who built “You didn’t build that,” this is astonishing. The president is quite clearly clueless about what a majority of the American people expect as his “right track/wrong track” polling shows. He is doing everything he can to avoid answering the questions most Americans do indeed have, like “How do we get out of this mess you have created?” And he did create it. There were a hundred courses open to him in 2009. He chose this one. It has led to financial calamity and global uncertainty verging on chaos. But he presumes to channel the American people.
Mitt Romney has put the choice to the American people and reinforced the necessity of choosing by selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate. The president is doing everything he can to avoid confronting the choice, using gutter politics and transparent deception to do so.
If you ask the average America, the assumption should be that President Obama would do what previous presidential candidates did, and play by the same rules and provide an open book on what he has done and what he plans to do. It’s what the American people expect.
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