Sigmund Freud was the first to identify a phenomenon known as "projection bias," wherein an individual ascribes his own negative traits to others as a way to excuse his own behavior.
For example, a man who cheats on his wife is likely to suspect her of cheating on him (and who could blame her?). This pathology may explain the wild accusations of secrecy and concealment of illegal activity made against Mitt Romney by the Obama campaign.
It is astounding to those familiar with what is known of Barack Obama’s political past that he could make demands for more disclosure with a straight face. Then again, he’s had a lot of practice.
In Obama’s race for the U.S. Senate, David Axelrod’s former employer, The Chicago Tribune, successfully sued to obtain the sealed divorce records of Obama’s opponent. But to this day, the paper’s parent company keeps video of Obama’s laudatory introduction of Rashid Khalidi, a former spokesman for the PLO, under wraps.
His Illinois state Senate records have mysteriously disappeared, access to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge archives (where he served with Bill Ayers) is restricted, and his college admission applications and transcripts are under lock and key.
The Obama campaign’s pathology now projects its own secrecy onto a man who has never been associated with any wrongdoing in public office, his business career, or his personal life. Not surprisingly, Obama’s media accomplices take this lack of evidence as evidence (revealing a little projection bias of their own) and join the outcry for more disclosure from Romney, while ignoring Obama’s secret past.
Romney knows that his tax returns are a treasure trove of data that will sound suspicious to those who lack sophistication in financial matters or corporate governance. Page 1 of the Democratic playbook is to take advantage of such voter ignorance.
Unless the Romney campaign turns the tables, this issue will continue to serve Obama’s purpose: to distract voters from the state of the economy.
While Swiss bank accounts and corporate board structures are unfamiliar to most voters, most are familiar with the concept of escrow. If they’ve bought a house and pay a mortgage, they see their tax escrow balance in their statement every month.
Mitt Romney can turn the disclosure issue to his advantage by creating an escrow account of his own.
Romney should hand over seven years of income tax returns, his medical records, his college applications, college transcripts, the year-end minutes of boards on which he served, a personal financial statement including outstanding loans, criminal records (if any), and a credit report to a trusted third-party escrow agent. It could be a prominent attorney, a former attorney general or even a Supreme Court justice.
But here’s the catch: nothing is released until and unless Obama discloses all of the same documents. All or nothing.
Will Obama provide his college applications? Some speculate that he listed himself as a foreign student to gain preferential admission. Will he supply his transcripts?
It would be nice to know if he’s the genius they say he is. And will he finally cough up the minutes from his time spent serving on a board of directors with the notorious Bill Ayers?
Of course not. And thus he hands a powerful weapon to Romney and changes the dynamic of the issue.
To protect the president, the press will probably never ask for tax returns again, but if they do, his simple reply is, “It’s up to the president, ask him.”
Campaign escrow is a great model for all campaigns going forward because it exposes the more secretive candidate while preserving the privacy of the more forthcoming one.
In this race, it will clearly show who has something to hide.
Todd Stump is an entrepreneur who has built broadcast television, publishing, and digital media companies in Central and Eastern Europe, a political consultant, real estate investor, and most recently, a pizza restaurateur.
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