Scurrilous would be a step up for Harry Reid. If he were a Republican ... you know the drill. The word "McCarthyite" would be on everyone's lips and the thoroughly contemptible accusation — based (ha!) on an anonymous "investor" who supposedly phoned Reid — would be the story of the day. Reid's fetid slander, and not Romney's response, would preoccupy everyone interested in politics.
For Romney to release his tax returns now would seem to reward this sort of disgraceful tactic. And yet, it may be worth doing anyway.
Romney has resisted releasing more than two years' worth of tax returns — presumably because he knows that an army of Democratic operatives would pore over them, plucking out details and holding them between tweezers for all to see. "Look, Romney has holdings in companies doing business in (fill in the blank) the Philippines, Russia, China, South Africa, Singapore. Did you know that you could be arrested for spitting on the street in Singapore? Romney has described Russia as 'our No. 1 adversary' in the world, and yet he had stock in company X that sold widgets to St. Petersburg's water authority! What a hypocrite. What a traitor."
For a few days, there is no doubt, we'd hear nothing but repetitions about Romney's great wealth, including in-depth examinations of his various holdings, whatever they are, and a lurid emphasis on anything — like expensive dressage horses — that screams money. That much is a given.
Americans don't envy the rich; they aspire to become rich themselves. Class envy has limited appeal. Among recent prominent American politicians, it's challenging to find a single one who is not a millionaire. Harry Reid has a net worth estimated at between $2.6 and $5 million. Nancy Pelosi recently lost $8 million, bringing her net worth down to $26.4 million. John Boehner is said to have $1.7 million.
Hillary Clinton, one of the most popular political figures in the country, is worth about $85 million. No one objected to her wealth when she ran in 2008, and no one suggests it would be a handicap in the future.
Ross Perot made history in 1992 and 1996, getting more votes than any third party candidate in history. His status as a billionaire was not resented, but instead, admired.
Al Gore could have picked up the tab when dining with the Clintons. His net worth clocks in at about $100 million. But he could have asked John Kerry to do likewise, as Kerry's fortune is put at $240 million.
Darrell Issa and Arnold Schwarzenegger are wealthy men, which hasn't hurt their careers in politics. Teddy Kennedy, Mark Warner, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Herb Kohl, Rick Scott, Jay Rockefeller, Jon Corzine and George W. Bush are/were all multimillionaires. And let's not forget the man who seems to be mayor of New York for life and who is often mentioned (by the credulous) as a possible national candidate, Michael Bloomberg (estimated net worth $22 billion).
Romney's fortune puts him at the higher end of recent presidential candidates, north of Al Gore but south of John Kerry. Unlike many in Washington, Romney made money in the private sector, not by political leverage. Some voters, however, may conclude that Romney's reluctance to release his tax returns suggests that he's hiding something. To allay their suspicions, it's worth releasing the returns. Yes, Romney's rich and also charitable and clean. All are plusses in American politics.
Mona Charen writes for Creators Syndicate. She may be contacted through the Web site: