Romney’s Taxes in a Poke

Mitt Romney at Bar B Q Shack.jpg

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Mitt Romney grabs a bag of food before leaving a campaign event at Stepto’s Bar B Q Shack in Evansville, Indiana, August 4, 2012

One of the oldest bits of practical advice in the English language advises people not “to buy a pig in a poke.” It dates from days when there were shortages of meat, and con men sold what purported to be succulent ham or bacon in the form of a piglet wriggling in a poke, or burlap bag. A bargain price was offered on the condition that the poke not be opened. When it was opened, too late for the payment to be called back, the sucker found he had bought a stray dog or large cat, not a pig.

Why would anyone be stupid enough to submit to the condition that he not open a bag and inspect its merchandise before purchasing it? Now we know how dumb Mitt Romney thinks we are. He tells us he has a pig—a reasonable account of his taxes—in his pouch, but he won’t show it to us. Imagine our surprise if, after his election, we get to peek inside the pouch. There would be anger at him for hiding what he was selling us until after we had bought it by voting for him. But we cannot claim that as any excuse. We were obviously buying the unknown. If we do not ask to know, why should he let us? He will even tell us we have no right to look in the bag—that it is his own private pig until we take it off his hands. It is a distraction from the negotiation he is carrying on, which is about buying, not knowing.

We do not have the excuse of lacking grounds for suspicion. There are some non-piggy sounds coming from his bag, ones that suggest muffled barks or meows, not healthy oinks—all those tax dodges already admitted, the offshore accounts, the staggeringly huge IRA, the low rate on the rich that is admitted, the even lower rate he plans for himself in the future. How bad—how totally unpiggy—can the rest of what he is hiding be?

It must be terrible for him to keep defying reasonable demands, those that any prospective buyer would make, that other sellers in his position have acceded to readily. Good heavens, unreasonable demands, such as that President Obama should publish his birth certificate once again, have also been met though they are just causing trouble. Romney’s defiance of precedent, public clamor, and even his allies’ concessions can only make sense if the size of the danger outweighs the problems of resistance.

Can he pull it off? He seems to think so. He must agree with Mencken that no one goes broke underestimating the American intelligence. He tells us he is going to keep his pouch closed. Moreover, he is going to lock it in his cellar, so we cannot even get close enough to hear the strange noises it makes. We have to buy it not only unopened, not only unexamined, but unseen. He is betting there is no one who, knowing what he is hiding, might alert the citizens before they make this blind choice.

If that is the case, any who know the truth and do not speak it before the election will be accomplices in defrauding the people. And if anyone speaks then, it will be too late. If the truth about his taxes starts coming out after he is elected, he can just laugh in our faces, like the seller who leaves the buyer with his fictive “pig.” Even if it turns out that Romney has corrupted the political process to win the presidency, we will probably be too dumb to know how to impeach him for it. After all, we were dumb enough to buy his poke.

Subscribe and save 50%!

Get immediate access to the current issue and over 25,000 articles from the archives, plus the NYR App.

Already a subscriber? Sign in