“I’ve always been proud of my late grandfather’s legacy as a governor and a presidential candidate,” Tagg Romney wrote in an e-mail yesterday addressed to “Friends.” “And I’m prouder still to see my dad follow in his footsteps.” The eldest son of Mitt Romney was hawking T-shirts with a vintage design from his grandfather’s campaign. Pity Tagg’s father refuses to follow George Romney’s lasting legacy of the presidential campaign: the voluntary release of years of tax returns.

The tradition used to be that candidates gave out general information on their income and financial assets via a statement. That all changed in 1967 when George Romney released his actual tax returns for the previous 12 years. “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show,” the elder Romney said then. His son, the presumptive Republican nominee in 2012, prefers to show almost nothing. Mitt Romney has only released his tax returns for 2010 and an estimate for 2011. That’s not good enough.

Making this demand is not about class warfare or class envy or any of the other excuses Romney and his supporters use to deflect attention on the subject. It’s about transparency. It’s a relevant quest made all the more important since news reports revealed Romney’s tax shelters and bank accounts outside the United States. Even Republican Party elder Haley Barbour says, “I would” to the tax return-release question.

The Mississippi governor went on to say that the controversy “doesn’t amount to diddly.” We’ll just have to agree to disagree on that. But his “I would” speaks to the self-inflicted wound Romney is suffering because of his refusal to follow a great tradition set by his own father. It’s not like he can’t find them. As part of the vice presidential vetting process in 2008, Romney handed over 23 years’ worth of tax returns to Sen. John McCain.

No doubt Romney is asking his potential running mates for their tax returns and all sorts of other information. As well he should. He doesn’t want any surprises that could upend his campaign or cost him the election. (See Palin, Sarah.) The American people don’t want any surprises either. Romney insists that he has paid all taxes owed and that he has nothing to hide. Resisting the growing calls to be more forthcoming understandably calls into question both assertions. All he needs is a “pink press conference” to start healing this self-inflicted wound.