Robin Roberts of ABC News has a new interview of Ann Romney that begins (around the 1:00 mark of the video) with the topic of Mitt’s refusal to release more of his tax returns, in keeping with the practices of many presidential candidates of both parties. Ann’s response included a very interesting suggestion. “You know, you should really look at where Mitt has led his life, where he’s been financially. He’s a very generous person . . .” said Ann (with emphasis in the original).

You know, Ann, that’s a good idea.

A really good idea.

I’d really, really love to look at where Mitt has led his life, and where he’s been financially.

But where to start? Oh, I could read biographies of Mitt or listen to his speeches, or listen to his friends or family talk about him, but those are words. Instead of just words, let’s try a little applied moral theology, as I explained it last October:

The late Lutheran poet and seminary professor Gerhard Frost wrote a short poem entitled “Autobiography,” which opens with four questions a person might ask themselves as they sit down to write an autobiography. He closes, though, with a single, simple thought. I don’t need to write anything more, because I’ve already written enough for you to see who I am. Concludes Frost: “My check stubs are enough.”

I thought of this poem as I came across these words yesterday from former Chancellor Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Giles Fraser back in June 2010: “the best way to assess what someone believes is to look through their bank statement. Forget fancy words and sermons, money is the way we mean it – or we don’t. Money is the sacrament of moral seriousness.”

Using religious language to talk about money fits easily with Wall Street. In every bank and brokerage house, from the lowliest trader to the occupant of the corner office, money is how you are measured. MOTU bosses assess their peons: “What did you earn for us this year, this quarter, this month, this year? How does that stack up with what everyone else around here did? How does it stack up against our competitors?” Meanwhile, clients ask about return on investments, asking “could we have done better with a different company?”


Put Frost and Fraser together, and you get a profound and simple way in which to assess the moral character of MOTUs on Wall Street, lobbyists on K Street, or businesses on Main Street.

Or, like Frost, it’s how we assess ourselves. Pull out your checkbook, and look at the entries. How would you feel if you could look over the shoulders of your descendants, as they pored through your check stubs?

Or, dare I say it, it’s how one might assess MOTUs on Wall Street who are running for president.

If Mitt is this great and grand businessman, hugely successful on Wall Street by the metric that matters most — money — and he’s a master of economic decisionmaking and measuring value, let’s take a look at the Romney finances so we can get a moral measure of the man not just in the way he talks, but in the way he leads his life, one nickel at a time.

Thanks, Ann. That’s a great idea.

Sadly, back in that ABC interview, Ann backed off of her own idea rather quickly. When Robin Roberts asked the obvious followup question, Ann got up on her high horse (so to speak), and chastised those asking for Mitt to release more of his tax returns:

Robin Roberts: “Why not show that, then?”

Ann Romney: “Because there are so many things that will be open again for more attack. . . . We’ve given all you people need to know and understand about our financial situation and about how we live our life.”

That’s a very illuminating answer, Ann. If there are so many things that will be attacked in those earlier tax returns, then we clearly DON’T have everything we need to know in order to understand how you two live your life, nor the values by which Mitt would seek to organize our nation’s life.

If Mitt won’t trust us with his check stubs, why should we trust him with our nation’s checkbook?


photo h/t to CarbonNYC