Typically in most campaigns we end up with weeks of coverage over an issue, that while important, seems to suck the air out of any other important topics. So far in the Obama v. Romney campaign it is whether or not Romney should disclose fully his taxes.
On Monday we got a “sneak peek” into Romney’s finances and an interesting fact floated to the surface. Last year Mitt Romney made $20.9 million just from his investments. How many people anywhere in the world are in this position?
This partial revelation needs to open a new and important set of questions for Mr. Romney and President Obama. A set of questions that has been plaguing our civic debates and hampering our ability to pass legislation that increases jobs, asserts responsible regulation and protects the most vulnerable.
A debate that asks: how do we create a balance between the individual and his or her right to make a living and the shared responsibility we all have for clean water, safe bridges, robust schools, and job opportunities? Please note this is not asking if we should do this but how we should do this.
We share this responsibility because we share this planet and its resources and no amount of money should buy anyone out of his or her common humanity.
Roosevelt put it this way: “A small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor, other people’s lives. For too many of us life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness … These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power.”
I am not saying that Romney is a part of this small group or shares this mentality. However Roosevelt’s words could well sum up the economic conversation we have or have not been having as a country. And if Romney and Obama want to govern they need to be able to explain how one person can amass $20 million in one year while 24% of American children are living in poverty.
We need a debate not just about transparency surrounding wealth but how we close a gap that is not created because one person works harder than another but is created because institutions and their elected leaders are failing – and that is a lot more than a failure to disclose.