For my money, Gary Wills is a conservative. I know, I know, the guy has evolved a lot over the years, even endorsed Barack Obama back in 2008, but for Chrissakes he started public life as a reporter for the National Review and was the protégé of none other than William F. Buckley himself.
I do think he's one of those conservatives who no longer find a place for themselves in the modern Republican Party, dominated by wacky fundamentalists, global warming deniers, and anti-abortion extremists.
Still, his column today in the New York Review of Books, Romney's Taxes in a Poke, is interesting in the perspective it takes on Mitt Romney's refusal to release his tax returns. Wills uses the metaphor of the pig in the poke.
Join me on the flip for how he does it...
First he tells us where the line comes from:
One of the oldest bits of practical advice in the English language advises people not “to buy a pig in a poke.” It dates from days when there were shortages of meat, and con men sold what purported to be succulent ham or bacon in the form of a piglet wriggling in a poke, or burlap bag. A bargain price was offered on the condition that the poke not be opened. When it was opened, too late for the payment to be called back, the sucker found he had bought a stray dog or large cat, not a pig.[As an aside, when my 8th grade Latin teacher taught us this saying she told us the poke was a "paper sack," not a burlap bag. Because she was not only just about the smartest teacher I'd ever been around, not mention from rural North Carolina, I tend to believe her. Of course, Wills probably learned it was burlap by researching the saying in books and whatnot. My teacher grew up actually calling paper sacks pokes, before she moved away from Carolina and through force of will lost her deep southern accent.]
Now, to go from the cat or dog in a sack to the question of Romney's taxes is not a tough stretch. Here's how Wills does it:
Now we know how dumb Mitt Romney thinks we are. He tells us he has a pig—a reasonable account of his taxes—in his pouch, but he won’t show it to us... If we do not ask to know, why should he let us? He will even tell us we have no right to look in the bag—that it is his own private pig until we take it off his hands.Wills tells us we have reason to suspect it's a stray cat in the bag, not a piglet, and reminds that past precedent is that presidential candidates accede to the reasonable request to show their taxes. Hell, even
unreasonable demands, such as that President Obama should publish his birth certificate once again, have also been met though they are just causing trouble.All this leads him to conclude:
Romney’s defiance of precedent, public clamor, and even his allies’ concessions can only make sense if the size of the danger outweighs the problems of resistanceHe's thinking Romney just might get away with it:
He tells us he is going to keep his pouch closed. Moreover, he is going to lock it in his cellar, so we cannot even get close enough to hear the strange noises it makes. We have to buy it not only unopened, not only unexamined, but unseen.Wills's real target here, though, is not Romney himself but those "who know the truth" about what Romney's trying to hide, about the fraud he's trying to pull off. They will be his accomplishes, Wills suggests, aiding him to commit what Wills believes might even be an impeachable offense.
Some kind of conservative. A real one, one who has principles and stands by them. The kind of conservative, true to the tradition of Edmund Burke, who can find no place in the modern Republican Party.
John McCain, are you listening?