Mitt Romney is getting hammered for his wealth. Not because he made money. We Americans love the wealthy and aspire to be among them. And not because of his fancy fundraisers in Aspen or the Hamptons, where his supporters are prone to talking about “the common person.” No, the founder of Bain, worth more than $250 million, is getting hammered because he seems to be unwilling to be forthcoming and transparent for a man who wants to be president of the United States. And he will continue to get hammered until he follows Hillary Clinton’s lead.
Before Clinton was the swooned-over secretary of state of today, she was the unpopular first lady who many viewed with suspicion. She and her husband, President Bill Clinton, caught hell for their involvement in a failed real-estate venture in Arkansas called Whitewater. As this year’s PBS series on the Clinton presidency highlighted, the president, the first lady and many of their advisers believed that a then-20-year-old bad investment had nothing to do with the presidency and questions about it would go away.
By April 1994, more than a year into the first term, the first lady sat for a nationally televised question-and-answer session with the national press in the White House State Dining Room for what became known as the “pink press conference.” For 66 minutes, Clinton answered or deflected questions clad in a “pink-and-black St. John knit suit” about the investments she and her husband made before coming to Washington. Most notably, she acknowledged that her unwillingness to answer questions from the press and others earlier fed into the perception that they were hiding something. This is exactly the predicament Romney finds himself in now.
Releasing two years of tax returns just won’t cut it anymore for Romney . Especially since his own father set the welcome precedent in 1968 of his releasing his tax returns — 12 years of them. As The Post Editorial Board made clear in January, Romney should follow his father’s lead on this one.
Because the questions surrounding his wealth start but don’t end with his tax returns, Romney should seriously consider a press conference where he can explain his finances. He doesn’t have to sit for 66 minutes. He definitely doesn’t have to wear pink. But sooner or later, the presumptive Republican nominee for president will have to answer legitimate questions about tax shelters in the Cayman Islands, Swiss bank accounts and other financial arrangements that allow him to have a tax rate much lower than the people he hopes to lead.