Why does someone with a dirty secret go into politics?

I don’t know much about Dennis Hastert, but his problem sure sounds familiar.  Apparently he has a dirty secret in his past, and he spent a lot of money to make sure it stayed secret.  It strikes me as a bit odd that someone would choose a political career knowing that he had such a secret lurking in his part.  But this is, of course, the way politicians are.  A major plot element in my novel Senator involves just such a situation: Senator Jim O’Connor (who has his own problems) finds out about his opponent’s dirty secret.  What should he do about it?  Should he use the knowledge to destroy his opponent?

What would you do?  Well, you’re not a politician, so that doesn’t matter.  It’s these moral conundrums that interested me most in writing the novel..

The Tyranny of Writing

It’s been a glorious Memorial Day here in New England.

So why did I spend half the day inside, staring at a computer screen?

For a stinkin’ 500 words of fiction, that’s why.

Of course, they were reasonably good words of fiction.  So I guess everything is all right.

Life is stupider than fiction: Mitt Romney and his tax returns

It seems clear that Mitt Romney’s refusal to release more than two years of his tax returns will be something of a political liability.  Here’s the kind of hit he is taking, even from Republicans.

Democrats, led by Obama’s campaign, have pushed for Romney to release more years of returns. On Sunday, Bill Kristol had a similar message, saying Romney is “crazy” not to release more tax returns as soon as possible.

“He should release the tax returns tomorrow. It’s crazy,” Kristol said on “Fox News Sunday.” “You gotta release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.”

One plausible theory I’ve come across (see here, for example) is that if he releases his 2009 returns, he might show even more income than on his 2010 returns, but with no tax liability at all.  The blogger says:

Still, willingness to do extremely aggressive tax sheltering (such as through loss generation from circular flows of cash) in 2009 would not come as a huge surprise, even though it seems like a dumb idea if you are preparing to run for president again.  I wonder if the very fact that he was running for president might have led him to figure that he was audit-proof, on the ground that the IRS would look too political if it started challenging things.

I would like to second the “dumb idea” remark.  I just don’t get it.  Mitt Romney is a smart guy, and apparently he has wanted to be president all his life.  He’s been running for elective office since 1994.  He is clearly willing to forego vast gobs of money that he could be making in the private equity world.  Couldn’t he see this coming?  If I were Mitt Romney in 2004 or so, and I was making the decision to run for the presidency, I’d start cleaning everything up.  What’s a few million dollars in taxes, compared to achieving your lifelong ambition of being the most powerful man in the world?

In a way, I find this more baffling than the record-shattering stupidity of John Edwards.  People do stupid things when they fall in love.  But people fall in love with people; they don’t fall in love with aggressive tax shelters.  Or maybe I’m just suffering a failure of imagination.

If I had to guess, I’d say that it’s Romney who suffered a failure of imagination.  To him, using aggressive tax shelters is as natural as breathing.  If you have vast gobs of income, of course that’s what you do.  Doesn’t everyone?  Living in Massachusetts, I’ve seen enough of Romney to know that he’s not a natural politician.  He’s smart enough to understand the game intellectually, but he doesn’t have good instincts.  If you’ve been wildly successful at everything you’ve tried your entire life, maybe you start thinking the game will be easier than it really is.  And that leads you to unforced errors like this one.

Or maybe he’s just an idiot.