Sunday morning George Will spoke for an increasing number of Americans who believe Willard Mitt Romney needs to release more than two years of tax returns. Consider that moment the start of a running clock that will record how long it will take Team Romney to give in to the pressure that will grow and grow…and grow…to provide this information.
Odds are overwhelming that Team Romney will indeed give in to these forces; I believe this because I see this sort of behavior all the time in organizations that are facing tough issues but resist for internal reasons taking decisive action to address a problem. The discussion at the senior management meeting goes like this:
Subordinate #1: “Boss…I know this is going to sound crazy, but I think we should admit we were wrong, fire the guy who screwed up and invite the guy we screwed over to come in for a conversation about how to set things right. If we don’t it now, we’ll get credit for doing the right thing, for acting decisively and on our own term. Yes, there’ll be a hit in the short term, but overall the story will be over and done in three days.”
[GENERAL HUBBUB ENSUES AS EVERYONE ERUPTS AT ONCE]
Subordinate #2: “Way too soon!”
Subordinate #3: “No way should we be accepting responsibility for this.”
Subordinate #4: “We should wait; there’s a good chance this will blow over without us having to do anything.”
Subordinate #5: (sotto voce): Wow, that took a lot of balls…or maybe he’s too stupid to realize he just recommended firing the boss’ nephew.”
After the hubbub dies down, the CEO leans forward and says something along the lines of, “OK, does anybody have any real suggestions about how to handle this one? If not, let’s move on to the next item, repricing everyone’s options to reflect the recent stock price drop…”
Flash forward a week, a month, whatever…after the protests, the unceasing media scrutiny, the blog postings, the fake Twitter account, the threatened legal action and the same group of executives gets the CEO memo announcing the departure to “pursue other interests” the guy who screwed up and the press release that contains the brain-numbing phrases like, “After careful review of the circumstances involved and listening to the recollections of a number of first-hand observers, we have concluded that our procedures were not followed in this instance. For this lapse in our standard, we express our apologies to [WHOEVER] and we promise to redouble our efforts in this area to make sure there is no recurrence of such an event.”
The net result: the organization ends up doing what it should have done a month ago but does so too late to receive any credit for the action. It has distracted itself, its shareholders and customers for a month and has created the following perception in the minds of key constituents:
“We’re not terrible competent.”
“We deny we’ve screwed up even when the facts might indicate otherwise.”
“But…if you make it make things painful enough…we’ll give in and show that we’re incompetent, arbitrary and craven.”
Too bad for Mitt that he’s already too far down that path on the tax returns. He could release all of his tax returns at this point and would get scant credit for it. That said, it’s only going to get worse the longer he waits. As the saying goes, when you realize you’ve dug yourself into a hole, the first step is to stop digging.
There is, of course, the possibility that Team Mitt will not release the tax returns, but I rate that possibility very low. The ONLY reason that they won’t be released by the man who has demonstrated he’d do most anything to be president – change positions on a full range of public policy issues, inflame xenophobic sentiment, pander to the most extreme members of his party – is because there’s something truly damning in there.
And, as a matter of public policy (rather than communications tactics), I would like to see Mitt’s returns from the years when he wasn’t running for president (pretty much the last eight years). I have a sneaking suspicion that pre-candidate Romney’s returns look considerably different from those filed by candidate Ronmey.