So today is MA-Sen tax return day, the hotly-awaited showdown when, after a good deal of hemming and hawing on both sides, both candidates will release several years of tax returns for inspection and fine-tooth-combing by the media. Both camps are in spin overdrive, desperately attempting to paint the other as a rich, out-of-touch hypocrite, while reassuring voters that they, only they, stand for the common man/woman.
And what will both sets of returns show? That Scott Brown is rich, and that Elizabeth Warren is rich. Get over it.
Honestly, this whole thing is a ridiculous sideshow. Unless there’s something really weird in any of these returns – some Romney-like mysterious Swiss bank account, for example – they’re not going to reveal much we didn’t already know. Scott Brown earned close to a million bucks in 2010 because of his $700,000 book advance – but we knew that. He owns six properties collectively worth over a million bucks – but we knew that too. Elizabeth Warren gets paid something like $350,000 a year by Harvard Law School – but we knew that. She got an interest-free loan to help with her kids’ college tuition – but we knew that too, and it’s not a big deal (despite Team Brown’s pathetic attempts to spin it otherwise). They both own lots of stock in lots of companies – but we knew that.
There is one useful thing that might actually come out of this exercise: maybe the candidates will have to stop pretending, once and for all, that they are “just like you.” Because they’re not. Here’s a memo to the vast majority of Massachusetts residents: the candidates are both a lot richer than you are. They have nothing like the financial worries that you have. Neither Scott Brown nor Elizabeth Warren has had to worry about how to make ends meet for a very long time.
Yes, both of them came from humble beginnings when they did have those kinds of worries, and that is worth something. But it’s not worth something because it’s inherently more virtuous to have come from that kind of background rather than some other kind; it’s worth something because, having become successful, one might hope that both candidates have some personal knowledge and understanding about what it takes, both personally and societally, to work your way up. One might further hope that the candidates are able to draw on that knowledge and understanding, along with their other knowledge and experience, in order to formulate a sensible set of policy ideas.
So what should matter to Massachusetts voters is not who had the more hardscrabble upbringing. What should matter is what the candidates propose to do in order to make things better for the people in this state who are in difficult circumstances, perhaps like the ones that both Brown and Warren faced many years ago, right now. Please, once today’s tax return circus has left town, can we talk more about that?