The whole Mitt flap should have us talking tax reform, and he could have taken the first step

by Ryan Streeter on September 19, 2012. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

There’s been so much commentary on the Mitt Romney video that there’s probably nothing new worth saying, except maybe this: what the episode should focus our eyes on is what has been discussed the least since Monday night – namely, the need for tax reform.

The problem for Romney is that his comments took him in the direction of the kind of us-versus-them, class-based conflict for which he has repeatedly criticized Obama. And for this, he has received plenty of justified criticism from conservatives.  Many have pointed out that he simply must have known while making those comments that a good many of the 47% are Republicans, seniors, and veterans. So, overall, playing to the donor crowd in the room made him seem disingenuous, even dishonest.

Since this happens all the time in politics, I wasn’t too put off by it. What bothered me the most is that Romney didn’t say something like, “You know, it’s true that 47% of Americans don’t pay taxes, and the reason for that is because of this screwed up tax code we’ve got. That’s why Paul Ryan and I have been advocating for reforms to the tax code that make us more competitive, lighten the tax burden on more people while making sure everyone who can pay something does pay, and lessen the amount of all these silly loopholes. After all, Republicans and Democrats alike have put a good many of those loopholes in place in order to lower what people pay in taxes, which is why a lot of those 47% aren’t paying anything. It’s time for a tax code that looks like we designed it on purpose.”

Or something like that.

Now, of course, nothing in what I just wrote rallies the troops or gets the red meat sizzling on the grill. But how we tax ourselves just so happens to be one of the big issues facing the country long-term, and it’s precisely Romney’s overly-cautious avoidance of specific ideas that has gotten him in trouble (he says he’s going to start remedying this now by rolling out more specifics). Not to mention that it’s precisely Paul Ryan’s overly-bold approach to specific ideas that made him so popular with conservatives. Romney should have been more detailed and bold all along, even at “private” fundraisers.

Some commentators have done some useful work on the tax code implications of the 47% over the past few days.

Read Reihan Salam, for instance, and take a look at the charts Ezra Klein compiled here, which show what our tax policy has wrought.