Romney's Clever Evasiveness

by Jonathan Chait | August 11, 2011

I didn't wake up intending to let Mitt Romney take over my blog today, but after a long period of inaccessibility, he's made himself available to questions in a way that reveals a lot about him. One thing that comes across is that Romney seems like a kind of character that, in recent years, has been associated with Democratic politicians, not Republican politicians. He's very smart, and he can use his intelligence to answer questions in ways that are literally true but feel somewhat evasive. Here's Romney confronting a reporter who picks apart his claims that his campaign is not "run by lobbyists":

If you couldn't watch the exchange, Romney is not saying that he doesn't have lobbyists in his campaign, because he does. He means that he's identifying one person as the person who runs his campaign, and she does not happen to be a lobbyist.

Meanwhile, here is Romney's response to stories showing that the S&P upgrade he boasted of getting as governor depended on tax increases:

 

Q: In 2004, as governor of Massachusetts, you closed corporate tax loopholes on big banks to raise revenue and balance the state budget. If you were elected president, would you do the same thing and look at the revenue side of the equation to balance the federal budget?


ROMNEY: The question is, as governor of Massachusetts I closed loopholes on big banks that were abusing our tax system and would I do the same as president. Let me tell you, let’s describe what is a loophole and what’s raising taxes. In my opinion, a loophole is when someone takes advantage of a tax law in a way that wasn’t intended by the legislation. And we had in my state, for instance, we had a special provision for real estate enterprises that owned a lot of real estate. And it provided lower tax rates in certain circumstances and some banks had figured out that by calling themselves real estate companies, they could get a special tax break. And we said, ‘No more of that, you’re not gonna game with the system.’ And so if there are taxpayers who find ways to distort the tax law and take advantage of what I’ll call loopholes in a way that are not intended by Congress or intended by the people, absolutely I’d close those loopholes. But there are a lot of people who use the loophole to say, ‘Let’s just raise taxes on people.’ And that I will not do. I will not raise taxes.

 

Romney here is relying on a sloppily-worded question. There is a technical distinction between tax loopholes and tax breaks. If I hire a lobbyist to carve out a special tax break for bloggers names Jonathan who joined the New Republic in 1995, that is a tax break, not a loophole, because it was intended. If I hire a tax lawyer to find a way to minimize my income that doesn't take advantage of an intended tax subsidy, that's a loophole. People, though, use the two terms interchangeably.

Romney sold S&P on a Massachusetts plan to reduce corporate tax breaks:

“He, like everybody, when they’re raising corporate taxes, calls it ‘closing tax loopholes,’” said Michael Widmer, president of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. “A couple of these were real loopholes but by and large they were increases in corporate taxes by changes in tax policy.”

But a reporter asked him about loopholes, so he replied in a way that squared the circle. Clever! And also something George W. Bush would never have thought of.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/93526/romneys-clever-evasiveness