Nine Is the Loneliest Number

I try to resist the temptation to argue that any particular statement a candidate makes represents his "true" self, revealing what he wants to conceal the rest of the time. This is something that campaigns say whenever their opponent makes a "gaffe," but in general what matters isn't what someone says once off the cuff, but what they repeat multiple times. That's why I have pointed to something Mitt Romney said repeatedly when asked about his taxes, that "I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president." He really seemed to be saying that if you don't game the system as much as you can, then you're a sucker, a chump, and you wouldn't want a chump to be president.

This quote—and he said variations of it on more than one occasion, remember—is now coming back to haunt him, because Romney is releasing his 2011 tax returns, and his team of accountants and tax lawyers has fashioned them in a very particular way:

The newest documents show that the GOP presidential nominee paid a 14.1 percent income tax rate in 2011, paying more in taxes than he was required to do by federal law, according to accounting firm Pricewaterhouse Coopers. The Republican opted to drive up his income tax rate by not claiming more than $1.75 million in deductions for charitable donations.

If he had claimed those deductions, his tax rate would have been more like 9 percent, and the fact that that number is in single digits would have looked really, really bad. Now maybe Romney has an explanation for why he instructed the accountants to do this, other than "Because a 9 percent tax rate would have gotten me a lot of bad press." But I can't think of what it might be. So he's choosing to be accused of being incredibly cynical over having his opponents repeat "9 percent! 9 percent!" over and over until election day. And you know what? Strategically speaking, it was probably the right move. Just think of how much fun Democrats would have had with it. "Herman Cain had a 9-9-9 plan; Mitt Romney has a 9 plan. But just for rich guys like him!" And so on.

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