Our Hobbesian Future

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Jonathan Zasloff thinks I’m wrong. He thinks Harry Reid really does have a credible source for his claim that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for ten years. I find this implausible in the extreme, but if Jonathan really does believe this, then it’s fine to defend Reid. Unfortunately, he then goes on to make another point:

Second, let’s think for a moment: what if Reid actually were making up this source? So what? As I pointed out beforehand, Romney has the evidence that Reid or his supposed source is wrong, and it is totally reasonable to ask Romney to release his taxes as have all candidates for the last 40 years.

….What precisely is contemptible? That Reid is using a more specific claim to get Romney to do something that every candidate for the last 40 years has done? That he has made his claim more specific? That instead of saying “I bet Romney paid no taxes” he is saying “someone credible told me that Romney paid no taxes”? When Romney himself could disprove it easily by simply adhering to the same rules of conduct that everyone else does? That is what is so contemptible? In an election being waged over the attempt to create permanent plutocratic/theocratic domination of the country?

This is bad stuff. If we’re at the point where both sides publicly hold that it’s defensible to simply make stuff up because the stakes are so high, we’ve abandoned all pretense of caring about the truth. Nor is the idea that it’s defensible to make up any charge as long as it’s somehow rebuttable much better.

I’m not even sure how to react to my critics anymore. When a bare minimal standard of decency (no flatly invented stories) is widely mocked as pearl clutching and fainting couch-y, there aren’t really any standards left aside from “whatever works.” All I know is that I want no part of that.

By the way, it’s really not true that every candidate for the past 40 years has released all their relevant tax information. John McCain released only a couple of years of returns, and released none of his wife’s returns even though that’s where the vast majority of his family’s wealth lies. Likewise, John Kerry never released his wife’s returns, which accounted for the vast majority of his family’s wealth. I agree that Romney should release more of his tax returns, and I think it’s fine for Democrats to beat him up about it. But let’s keep our facts straight.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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