If there is one thing Republicans claim to hate more than taxes and big government, it is sexual promiscuity. A recently introduced fee attached to adult live entertainment in Houston, Texas, the so-called “pole tax”, appears to pass muster with the Republican right. The fee applies to bars and nightclubs, which offer events that could be construed as sexually explicit, such as wet T-shirt contests or “naked sushi contests”, in which revellers are invited to eat raw fish off the body of a nude woman. Houston is a city that insiders describe as Tea Party-infused, meaning that in Houston tax-raising is anathema to Republican legislators. But apparently, the “pole tax” is different.
What happens deep in the heart of Texas does not usually hit the headlines in the rest of the United States. And so Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has not been asked yet, whether he supports or rejects the “pole tax” for ideological reasons.
The chances are that Romney will be on the defensive – as he was after the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s signature health care legislation. It turned out that the question of what is a tax and whether a tax could be reasonable is a difficult issue for someone who, as an ex-governor of Massachusetts, has to rally the anti-tax Republican right behind him.
Just look at how the Romney campaign reacted to the discussion about whether the result of not complying with the individual mandate in the health care law amounts to a penalty or a tax. Under the law, every American is required to buy health insurance. If someone is too poor to do it, the government will help. If someone does not want to do it, then that person has to pay a fee/penalty/tax – take your pick.
Romney’s chief spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom named it a fee, not a tax, echoing Romney’s long-time script book ever since the candidate backed such a mandate when he was governor of Massachusetts. Asked whether Romney would side with Obama on that one, Ferhnstrom said: “That’s correct.” But two days later, Romney, in a rare TV interview, contradicted his spokesman by calling the mandate a tax. Thus, he belatedly fell in line with the rest of the party by saying that what the Supreme Court rules is the law of the land. “And therefore the mandate is a tax, because the Supreme Court ruled it so.”
This latest flip-flop brought Romney harsh criticism from the left and particularly from the right. The Washington Post wrote that Romney changed his mind because he would now be able to brand Obama a tax raiser. And the conservative Wall Street Journal judged that the Romney campaign “looks confused in addition to being politically dumb”. The Journal, a Romney ally, had let off some remarkable steam. Just days earlier, the paper’s owner, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, had openly voiced his anger and disappointment at Romney, stating that the candidate’s campaign advisers were slowly “squandering an opportunity” to beat Obama.
Another opportunity for Romney to pounce on Obama came last Friday, when the wimpy June unemployment numbers showed that economic recovery is still stagnant, at best. But while Obama was aggressively defending his record on a bus tour in the crucial swing state of Ohio, Romney’s attack was standard campaign talk, predictable and uninspiring. On top of that, a pro-Obama group pushed a two-minute video they uncovered from a June 2006 press conference in which then-governor Romney basically sounds like Obama as he explains why he could not turn the economy around overnight. “If you are going to suggest to me” he told reporters back then, “that somehow the day I got elected, somehow jobs should have immediately turned around, well that would be silly.”
The only bright spot for Romney this weekend were the latest fund-raising numbers. His campaign and affiliated Republican committees raised more than $100 million in June, according to the Republican National Committee. That is Romney’s best month of the 2012 campaign to date. His June haul easily trumps his previous fund-raising best. He pulled in $77 million in May, outdoing Obama for the first time in this campaign and forcing the President onto the defensive.