The revelation that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had a Swiss bank account has once again raised the specter of Switzerland's U.S. image as a place for rich Americans to hide their money.
The former Governor of Massachusetts' posting of his tax forms not only indicated great wealth, suddenly a sin in a country where rags to riches has always been part of the American dream, but, even, worse, the manner in which he placed his money further tarnishes his image. First, he was accused of working for Bain Capital and firing people instead of creating jobs.
Now, according to his rivals, he is accused of hiding money in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, the ultimate sin for hardworking, honest, taxpaying Americans. The fact that he actually paid taxes on those accounts is not relevant. The fact that 6 million Americans living overseas are subject to double taxation by the United States is also not mentioned. Somehow, the populist rhetoric has become dominant with anything foreign becoming suspect. For Romney, just as in the unsuccessful presidential campaign of John Kerry, even speaking a foreign language like French has become a liability.
A recent U.S. article on the plight of Romney and the negative effects of his tax disclosures ends by saying, "Not a lot of unemployed Americans have bank accounts in Zurich". I would be surprised if many unemployed Americans have accounts in America and if they do, I hope the banks have not gone under. The point is unemployment, not the location of the banks.
I will not vote for Mitt Romney, but not because he had accounts in Switzerland. I also have accounts and I also pay taxes on them. I specifically object to the arguments mentioned above against him. He was elected Governor of America's most liberal state as a Republican. He did a fairly good job of governing. Why should Romney's wealth disqualify him from being President? Jack Kennedy's father was enormously wealthy and his money was made selling liquor during Prohibition. No one held that against him. Why has this negative narrative about Switzerland become so forceful now?
Both Sister Republics are in trouble when populism shows its ugly head. The historic ties between Switzerland and the United States are based on similar federal systems, similar Constitutions, and similar democratic underlying values. The attacks on Romney as well as a certain anti-Americanism in Switzerland reflect instability in times of economic downturn. That is not surprising. What is disappointing is to see how Switzerland and the United States have become easy prey for populist pandering.