The ads are running, the printing presses have been working since last night, and the Obama campaign staffers have not slept a wink for three days. After the President's speech yesterday, the Obama campaign and the mainstream media are hard at work to push their latest talking points- Mitt Romney not only pays a lower rate than the average taxpayer and wants to cut taxes for millionaires, he even wants to raise taxes on each family by $2000.
Now, of course, the non-partisan source Obama cited turned out to be... partisan. But, voters are not going to care about that. They are going to care about how Mitt Romney's tax plan will impact their wallets, and at this point, Obama is the only person telling them that. Team Obama's strategy is clear- to discredit Romney's policies by discrediting Romney's personal record on those issues. On jobs, it was Bain. For ethics, it was Romney's personal records and investments.
Romney now holds a small lead over Obama on the issue of taxation, but it may be lost if Obama manages to discredit his policies. Republicans have always held this advantage with the promise of tax cuts, but it has been whittled down under Bush, and now, most Americans actually think they pay "about right" in taxes to Washington.
Mitt Romney is said to be planning a policy rollout in the next few weeks. He should use that opportunity to make the economic and moral case for lower taxes. He should talk about the complexity of the tax code, the time it wastes, and the chances it presents to tax cheats like those running amok in the White House, as well as well-connected special interests. He should talk about how high, uncompetitive tax rates (the highest corporate tax rate in the world, for one) stifle free enterprise and hinder job creation, while discouraging hard work and hitting responsible Americans. He should talk about how he will reform the tax code to clean out loopholes that disproportionately benefit higher-income taxpayers, whose success should be lauded but who do not need to be coddled by the nanny state, outlining specific examples while pledging to protect and strengthen vital incentives for charitable giving, saving, homeownership, education, and healthcare. He should talk about how small businesses will benefit and create more, better-paying jobs under his plan, how he will give millions of middle-class Americans the chance to invest and save, and how we can create jobs by making America open for business again.
But above all, Romney needs to tell us how America's working families will stand to gain from a simpler and flatter tax code, and why his plan is actually the fairer alternative for the millions of strivers. People who work hard and want to succeed in life, so that they and their children can do better and live better, simply should not be discouraged and punished, and a punitive and unfair tax system only does that. Governor Romney is the only candidate in this election who stands for equal opportunity and a truly fair shot for everyone. Americans just don't know that yet.
Governor Romney must not shy away from defending his tax plan on his own terms. Rather, he must learn to show Americans that it is the only chance of achieving a simpler, fairer, and flatter code that works for them.
(And if Romney wants a more developed tax reform plan, Simpson-Bowles, Sen. Coburn's Back in Black, and the Bush-era President Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform all offer a good start.)