Today was one of those days that make journalists tear their hair out.
It started early with Luke Russert guest hosting Chuck Todd’s Daily Rundown on MSNBC. His guest was Ms. Tara Wall, a Romney campaign advisor who says she is a small business owner. Ms. Wall started her narrative about everything President Obama has done wrong and what Mitt Romney will do right – regulations on business, taxes on business – and just would not stop talking. Russert kept trying to get a few questions in, but Ms. Wall wouldn’t stop talking. She didn’t even take a deep breath. And Russert got stuck trying to ask the same question, so he never even got as far as saying “President Obama’s administration cut 500 business regulations and cut taxes for small business.” He never got to ask her to define “small business.” He barely got to sputter at her.
I want to see someone explain what both sides mean by “small business.” The tax code defines small businesses by their ownership. Therefore, Cargill and Bechtel are both small businesses. These are businesses wholly or mostly owned by a single person or family. There are also “mixed” companies, which probably isn’t what they are actually called. Those are companies like WalMart or News International where the bulk of the stock is not publicly traded, but held within a family or small group. Sorry, I’m not that fluent in the intricacies of how companies are defined by types and levels of stock. What I do know is that the form of a company determines its tax status. Cargill and Bechtel qualify for all the tax breaks that are passed for “small business” even though they have thousands of employees and the owners are billionaires, while we naively think these tax breaks are intended for the solely-owned hardware store down the street or the bodega on the corner or the TV repair shop my uncle owned. We think those tax breaks will help a small manufacturer with a couple of hundred employees, not 142,000 employees and $119 billion in revenues like Cargill. You know those S.C. Johnson ads that brag about being “a family business”? That means the family members are billionaires and their’s is a “small business.”
Two hours later, Thomas Roberts was facing his own Repub-bot, Republican National Committee Deputy Communications Director Tim Miller. Roberts had a single question he wanted answered – will the Romney campaign organization release the names of their “bundlers” since they are using the names of President Obama’s bundlers to attack him? A bundler is a person who gathers together a bunch of money from several people, even from his own employees in some instances, and “bundles” them into a single donation to a campaign. Miller ducked the question by droning on and on about Fisker Motors, whose owner is an Obama bundler according to Miller. I would rather play poker with Roberts than with Russert. Roberts got visibly frustrated.
This breathless, impenetrable droning is doing the Romney campaign no favors. It doesn’t just look rude, it looks like they are intentionally refusing to answer questions, explain policy decisions, explore what Romney would actually do if elected. The Republicans keep saying the President has no ideas, has no successes to run on, but when their surrogates dodge simple questions, they make people wonder just what Romney would do.