Tax Return Controversy Epitomizes Political PR

It’s 2012 and Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney won’t release his tax returns. In 2008, Presidential Candidate John McCain wouldn’t release his medical records. These controversies of disclosure aren’t limited to Republicans. From 2008 until 2011, for three years of back-and-forth public bickering, President Obama wouldn’t release his “long form” birth certificate. This represents political PR in a nutshell. They just won’t voluntary do anything that could make their guy “look bad,” even momentarily, even if a short-term bump in the road would make for more clear traveling from that point forward.

As I said while trying to give some “Outside The Beltway” perspective during an interview this morning on Sirius-XM’s POTUS channel, we are collectively considering two candidates for the job of President of the United States. Unless we are voting strictly along ideological lines (recognizing that many of us are), we are interested in their credentials, along with their performance in the job interviews (with media and debates). Essentially, when candidates for public office won’t answer questions that are relevant to common questions that voters want to know before making a hiring decision (are you healthy enough for the job?, what kind of taxes do you pay to the government you want to run? were you, as you say, born in the United States?), they just prolong controversy that detracts from the debate that really matters.

The political PR playbook says that Romney shouldn’t release his tax returns. It could be, quite literally, an embarrassment of riches. But that embarrassment would have been shorter-lived if it only had happened without this current, hackneyed controversy. It’s very similar to the “birther” questions. The Obama advisors didn’t want to release the birth certificate because they would be “giving in” to the “birthers.” Instead, they chose a three-year distraction until the President finally showed his documentation and it turned into comedic material for him at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner a short time later.

Tonight, the Romney campaign wishes you were reading something about their guy’s position on issues, instead of this blog. Meanwhile, some Americans are wondering what he’s hiding in that tax return, especially with taxes as a high-agenda item. It’s a controversy that doesn’t have to happen. But the political PR rulebook dictates that it must.