Why are we debating tax returns?

I watched last night’s GOP debate — all 2.5 hours of it. Unlike the previous couple of debates, last night’s event was poorly moderated (CNN). There were four moderators, and Telemundo has no business having a seat at any of our debates because they don’t ask about anything relevant.

I’m not going to summarize my thoughts on the debate. I tweeted throughout the debate. I don’t feel the need to rehash any of it here. Instead I’m going to focus on just one topic that came up: tax returns.

I’m not sure when it became the practice of politicians running for public office to release their tax returns, but as a voter I am completely disinterested. I don’t care about seeing Donald Trump’s tax returns, or Ted Cruz’s, or even Hillary Clinton’s. They could all refuse to release their tax returns and it wouldn’t matter to me in the least. I really only care about beating Democrats, and we aren’t going to beat Democrats with tax returns.

Last night Ted Cruz and Macro Rubio attempted to score points against Donald Trump because he hasn’t released his latest tax return. Donald Trump says it’s because he’s being audited and has been for each of the last 12 years or so. Cruz and Rubio suggested The Donald has something to hide. This went on for several minutes. It was a complete waste of time. Leave it to two senators to get bogged down in minutiae and miss a golden opportunity to score real points.

Ben Carson came closer than anyone to getting this right. Carson pointed out that he had never been audited until a couple of years ago after he’d given a well-publicized speech in which he came out against ObamaCare, and alluded to the fact that the IRS often misuses its power in punitive ways.

Many of the Republicans running for president this year say they favor abolishing the IRS in favor of a much simpler system whereby we can file our returns on a single sheet of paper or even a postcard. Given the anti-IRS rhetoric we commonly hear onstage during these debates, why in the world are candidates elevating the very products of this convoluted system to something that is almost holy? Instead of trying to score points on the other guy’s tax returns, why not use the moment to lobby for a system in which tax returns are no longer even an issue?

I am convinced that tax returns only matter to politicians. Rank-and-file voters such as myself tend to care about weightier issues, like terrorism, illegal immigration, our burgeoning national debt, rampant unemployment. Granted, a lot of these things got talked about last night, but I would rather have heard the candidates take a few moments to go after Hillary Clinton than each other’s tax returns.


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