Paul Greenberg
Mitt Romney is about to accept his party's presidential nomination in a shower of -- no, not confetti and red-white-and-blue balloons -- but questions about his taxes. Naturally, he complains that all this ginned-up furore over his personal finances is just a distraction from real issues facing the country, mainly the sluggish state of the economy and persistent unemployment. And says he'd really like to get back to talking about substance.

But if these demands that he release more of his tax returns are just a distraction, whose fault is that? Not just the opposition's. The duty of an opposition, after all, is to oppose. And, in this case, to raise every doubt it can about a rival presidential candidate and see if any stick.

There's no vetting process quite as long and thorough as an American presidential campaign. Even if some of the interrogators, like Dirty Harry Reid, the Nevada mudslinger, and the president himself for that matter, haven't exactly raised the level of American politics by trying to turn this year's presidential campaign into an IRS audit.

As tiring and tiresome as it may be, this kind of close inspection, which might even lead to some welcome introspection on a presidential candidate's part, is both necessary and useful. Because you can never tell what it'll turn up. Sometimes it is something substantial. And if such questions are ignored and allowed to fester, they can have devastating repercussions -- repercussions from which a presidential campaign may not recover.

Anybody still remember Tom Eagleton? He was the senator from Missouri whom George McGovern chose as his running mate in 1972 -- briefly. It seems the good senator had neglected to share some details of his medical and mental history with Sen. McGovern, including some electric shock treatments years before.

Those omissions raised questions not so much about his health but his honesty. The poor guy was allowed to twist in the wind for 18 days, then dropped from the ticket. Not asking questions, or rather not answering them fully, can be fatal to a candidate's chances in a national election.

Mitt Romney may say he wants these questions about his taxes to go away, but he's found just the way to keep them simmering. By providing only tidbits of information -- like just a couple of years' worth of his tax returns -- and so whetting the public's appetite for more.

When curiosity about Mr. Romney's financial affairs seems to lag, he revives it by throwing out a little revelation or two. ("I did go back and look at my taxes, and over the past 10 years I never paid less than 13 percent. I think the most recent year is 13.6 percent or something like that....")

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.