GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: He tried. You tried. It's OK to make a change.
RAZ: Part of a TV ad paid for by the Republican National Committee co-opting the theme of change from Barack Obama's 2008 campaign and using it against him. James Fallows of The Atlantic joins us now as he does most Saturdays. Hello, Jim.
JAMES FALLOWS: Hello, Guy.
RAZ: On your blog this week, Jim, you call this TV ad that we just heard, you called it impressive. What impressed you about it?
FALLOWS: I think it distilled to its purest essence the argument that the Romney campaign can most effectively make from now until the election, which is essentially this three-part syllogism. Number one, the economy is broken. Everybody would agree with that. Number two, Obama can't fix it in their view. And number three, Romney can.
So you can agree or disagree with those premises, but I think in terms of the case the Republicans and Mitt Romney want to make, this is the best distillation of it. Also, I think this ad is marvelously subtle in sort of giving people permission to turn away from Obama. Even people who didn't vote for Barack Obama four years ago, I think, felt good about this step the nation had taken in electing its first non-white president. So it's saying it's OK. Nobody's going to blame you. You gave this guy a try. It's time to do something else.
RAZ: Let's talk about that strategy because it is, of course, the strategy Mitt Romney is pursuing. The Democrats have their own, notably, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid pursuing the strategy this past week. They are really pushing Romney on this tax issue. He's only disclosed, what, two years of his tax returns. Do you think this is eventually going to go away?
FALLOWS: In terms of press coverage, I don't see how it can or will, just given the way the press works as we know over the eons. It does perform. And as matter of operations and campaigns, it's really hard to understand. I think for most people who have seen politics, it's very hard to understand why Mitt Romney has not put these returns out. He knows that for the next three months, he's going to be asked about them.
He knows that Harry Reid or others are going to make charges that could be disproved. And either, there is something so problematic for his campaign in those returns that his decision makes sense or else it seems to be a real misplaying of their political hand.
RAZ: I mean, Harry Reid is claiming that Mitt Romney never paid taxes in that period of time. It could backfire on Harry Reid if - especially if he's wrong.
FALLOWS: Sure, if he is wrong. And Harry Reid, to be careful about what he said, said that, A, a person in a position to know, he said a Bain investor or somebody in that world, had told him, Harry Reid, that over a 10-year period, Mitt Romney had not paid taxes, by which we assume he means federal income taxes.
And so Harry Reid could just put on this sort of aw-shucks act saying, well, you know, I only know what I hear, and gee, it would be great if there was some way to know this for certain. And, of course, the way to know it for certain would be if Romney would turn over the returns.
RAZ: Why is it so important for him to do that? I mean, it is, you know, it is a person - one could argue this is a personal financial information and it's not necessarily relevant.
FALLOWS: It's not relevant. It's not in the Constitution. There's no legal requirement for Mitt Romney to do this. And if he were in a court of law, certainly the burden of proof would be on Harry Reid or anybody else accusing him of malfeasance. But when you run for political office, above all, when you run for the presidency, everything about your background, your bearing, your inclinations, your strengths, your weaknesses becomes part of this overall ledger.
And it's unfortunate for Mitt Romney, the person who made this case most strongly was his own father back in 1968, when George Romney, a very successful business executive, said here are 12 years worth of my tax returns because people need to know the full background. They could be suspicious if there's only a year or two. So it's not logically or legally required, but in the reality of American politics, it is.
RAZ: Jim, next, we're going to check in with Howard Berkes, one of our reporters covering the Olympic games. But first, I wanted to ask you about this word.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Beijing was set for...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: History in Beijing.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Undefeated in Beijing...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Beijing Olympic organizers...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Beijing.
RAZ: Jim, you lived in the city formerly known as Peking. How is it pronounced?
FALLOWS: The English version - I'm not going to try to do Chinese tones - would be Beijing. I'm saying jing like jingle bells.
RAZ: Not Beijing.
FALLOWS: Not Beijing the way you hear it on NBC. So if listeners are wondering why I'm not doing Olympic commentary, this would be the answer. I insist on saying Beijing.
RAZ: That's James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic. You can find his blog at jamesfallows.theatlantic.com. Jim, thanks so much.
FALLOWS: My pleasure, Guy. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.