Memo to Romney: Release your tax returns

As the national drumbeat builds for Mitt Romney to release additional tax returns, we can’t help but wonder if he is the only person on the planet who doesn’t know how his petulant game of keep-away is going to end.

Surely, everyone knows he is going to release more of his tax filings; it’s just a matter of when, not if.

But should we be proven wrong, we hope the Republican nominee-in-waiting is prepared to answer persistent questions about his peculiar pigheadedness – and not just from Democrats and the media – right up until Election Day.

What started out as a trickle has turned into a steady stream of nudges from Republican colleagues urging him to make public additional tax returns – beyond his already released 2010 and estimate for 2011 – and put this prickly issue behind him.

In recent days, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa (the fourth most senior Republican in the upper chamber), Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, to name a few, have called on the former Massachusetts governor to be more transparent about his finances.

Even some of the more influential conservative voices in the media – including columnist George Will and Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol – have joined the just-do-it chorus.

“He should release his tax returns tomorrow – it’s crazy,” Kristol said this past weekend on “Fox News Sunday.” “You’ve got to release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns. Take the hit for a day or two.”

Which raises the question: How much is enough?

For now, Romney says he intends to release no more than his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, pointing out that’s in line with what his predecessor, Sen. John McCain, did during his unsuccessful 2008 run for the presidency.

But that’s hardly in keeping with the precedent set by nominees of both parties during the past two decades:

In 1990, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton made public 10 years of federal tax returns in preparation for his 1992 run for the White House. He followed up in April of that year by releasing 1990 and 1991.

George W. Bush released his tax returns for the years 1997, 1998 and 1999 while mounting his 2000 bid against Democrat Al Gore. He would go on make public his tax filings between 2000 and 2007 while serving as the nation’s 43rd president.

And then- Illinois Sen. Barack Obama released seven years of tax returns in the run-up to his election in November 2008.

For his part, Romney said he does not want to release additional tax information because he doesn’t want to give the Obama campaign, as he recently told the National Journal, “more pages to pick through, distort and lie about.”

Understandable? Sure. Politicians don’t generally like to hand their political opponents ammunition.

But that’s hardly the point. It’s not a matter of whether the president’s political operatives have a right to scour the financial documents; it’s that the American people have a right to know the financial background of those who aspire to hold the highest office in the land.

And if it’s important enough for party nominees to demand those documents from their potential vice presidents, it’s important enough for voters to demand those same documents from their presidential nominees.

Four years ago, Romney turned over 23 years’ worth of tax returns to the McCain team while being vetted for vice president.

There’s no good reason why he can’t meet the American people halfway today.