Dean Obeidallah: Many of Mitt Romney's troubles are a result of holding back information
He says candidate should release more tax returns, open up about Bain, detail policy plans
Obeidallah: If a candidate wants Americans to trust him, he must trust them
Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is a political comedian and frequent commentator on various TV networks, including CNN. He is the editor of the politics blog “The Dean’s Report” and co-director of the upcoming documentary “The Muslims Are Coming!” Follow him on Twitter: @deanofcomedy.
“Can we trust that politician?”
Typically, that’s the question we ask when assessing a political candidate.
But with Mitt Romney, I think the question should go the other way around: Does he trust us?
And there’s a lot of evidence that he does not. Why else would Romney be so guarded? So afraid to open up to us about who he really is? Romney doesn’t want to talk about the details of his work at Bain Capital – the private equity firm he ran for 15 years. He’s reticent to talk about his faith. He won’t offer us details about various policy positions despite fellow Republicans urging him to do so. And the biggest sign of his lack of trust is his refusal to release more than two years of his income tax returns.
Maybe it’s not us. Perhaps Romney just has “trust issues.” I’m not a psychologist, and my sister, who is one, has made it clear I know nothing about this field. (We can just chalk that up to sibling rivalry.) But you don’t have to be Dr. Phil (or my sister) to sense intuitively that Romney is an extremely private, risk-adverse individual. He is so standoffish, he makes John Kerry look like Will Smith.
His reserve might be fine in the corporate boardroom where you’re judged primarily on the company’s bottom line. But when you are running for president, likability is important – even more than policy positions for some voters.
And on a purely human level, it’s hard to like a person if you don’t feel like you know him or her because that person is intentionally keeping something from you. In the absence of information, it’s natural to sense there is a less than positive reason for the evasive behavior.
The consequences of Romney’s holding back can be seen in two polls released this week. The first, released Wednesday by ABC News/Washington Post, found that only 40% of Americans view him favorably – in contrast with President Barack Obama who maintains a 53% favorability rating. And worse, Romney is viewed unfavorably by 49% of Americans – an increase of a whopping 18 percentage points since the beginning of this year.
And a CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday finds Obama has opened up a seven-point lead over Romney.
If Romney wants to win this election, he needs to trust us – to stop keeping things from us and tell us who he is as a person, not a politician. And he had a great chance to do just this at the NAACP Convention in July when he told the audience: “I believe that if you understood who I truly am in my heart … you would vote for me for president.”
This was Romney’s moment to tell us what is in his heart. Instead, he proceeded to recite his generic stump speech.
Like Ebenezer Scrooge waking up on Christmas morning realizing he still has chance to right his life, so does Romney. He should immediately release his past tax returns for at least three or four years. Polls show that a majority of Americans want him to do just that — just like so many other presidential candidates have in the past, including his father who ran for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination and released a dozen years of tax returns.
The likely reason Romney won’t release the past returns is fear. And that’s not based on something I learned in Psychology 101. It’s what Ann Romney – his wife – stated during an interview with ABC News in July. There, she said that if they released additional tax returns, the information contained in them would be used to attack Mitt.
She is 100% correct on that one. Both sides in this race will use anything and everything against each other. Romney saw this happen firsthand during the Republican presidential primaries when he released a tax return. His fellow Republicans immediately pounced on the low rate of taxes he paid.
But here is where trust comes in. Romney has to trust that we know the difference between political BS and real issues. While the Obama campaign will attack Romney’s return, it does not mean most Americans will be swayed by it.
Plus Mitt needs to understand this about the average American: We are more concerned with what taxes we are paying, not what the Romneys paid.
Romney may find want to heed the advice of the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, who stated: “He who does not trust enough, will not be trusted.”
Romney needs to show some faith in us. Let us in to see who he really is – flaws and all. Opening up could just be the thing that propels him to victory in November.
Or Romney can simply remain guarded and closed off – leaving us with the question: If Mitt doesn’t trust us, why should we trust him?
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dean Obeidallah.