Roland Martin and National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru had a heated debate Friday about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) unsubstantiated claims regarding Mitt Romney's taxes.
Toward the end of the battle on CNN's OutFront, Ponnuru marvelously told his opponent, "You've got to call these things as you see them, not just be a political hack for your team" (video follows with transcript and commentary):
RAMESH PONNURU, NATIONAL REVIEW: It's interesting that Harry, that Roland is not defending Harry Reid's tactics...
ROLAND MARTIN: I don't have to.
PONNURU: ...and making these unsubstantiated charges, changing the charges as he goes along, and then saying it's up to Romney to prove that the charges aren't accurate all the while not releasing his own tax returns.
MARTIN: Well, actually, it sounds like you know the people -- that sounds like Donald Trump, who's beloved by the GOP when it came to the birth certificate, even though we actually saw one that was released. Again, this is an attempt to drive Romney's negatives up and to also cast doubt on him in terms of his truthfulness. That's exactly what this is all about. It's called politics and it's called big boy politics and you've got to play it.
ERIN BURNETT, HOST: I mean, it is ugly, though, Ramesh, I mean right? I mean --
BURNETT: -- say something if it's not true, if he doesn't have a source that's a legitimate source, it is a pretty horrific allegation to make.
PONNURU: Well, remember, Reid says, first a Bain investor somehow knows Romney's tax returns, which is hard to believe in itself, and told him about it. Now he says --
BURNETT: Well, it could have been a senior partner, right? A senior partner who was aware of some of the tax shelters and things like that.
This was an inane comment by Burnett.
Regardless of knowledge of tax shelters, the head of a company doesn't share with his employees what he's paying in taxes.
I guarantee as a business owner myself that nobody at Bain Capital had any idea what the Romneys' tax returns looked like. But I digress:
PONNURU: Hold on, now he's saying that a number of people have told him this, a number of people, which he didn't say the other day. He somehow forgot to mention he had multiple sources. I think he's just making this up.
MARTIN: Well, there's one way to find out. And that is, Mitt Romney, release about five years of tax returns and we'll see or --
PONNURU: Is that -- is that -- is this the new standard --
MARTIN: Hold a second, one second -- no, actually, the standard is the one his dad set. Release -- his dad was the first candidate to do it --
PONNURU: Wait -- so --
MARTIN: -- so like father, like son.
PONNURU: -- you accept -- you accept you can just make any charge and say anyone in public life prove that I'm wrong?
PONNURU: Is that a standard you can live with yourself?
MARTIN: Well actually -- actually --
PONNURU: Is that a standard -- Harry Reid --
MARTIN: One second, one second --
PONNURU: You know what Harry Reid isn't paying taxes.
MARTIN: OK. Ask a question and I'll give the answer. It is very simple. It is the standard that many folks on the GOP side used for three years when it came to a certain birth certificate. All I'm simply saying is this here, Mitt Romney use the same standard your dad used. Is that fair?
This was a pathetic comment on Martin's part.
Harry Reid is the second-most powerful Democrat in the nation making unsubstantiated and unattributed claims about Romney. By contrast, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Oh.) never said Obama wasn't born in America.
As such, these matters are in no way analogous. But I once again digress:
PONNURU: And at the time did you accept this demand?
BURNETT: Ramesh, Roland raises -- you know what Roland, you were sort of losing me, but you make the point about the GOP did it over the birth certificate, Ramesh, they did.
Which ones? Were heads of the Republican Party on the level of Reid asking for Obama's birth certificate? The answer is no!
PONNURU: And what did Roland say about that demand at the time? Did he say this is perfectly reasonable or is he switching standards because of party line?
BURNETT: He may have taken your side completely but his guy ended up having to fork it over.
PONNURU: I said at the time --
MARTIN: Sure did.
PONNURU: -- the birth certificate thing was ridiculous and I'm saying this thing is ridiculous too. It is an attempt to distract people from the actual issues in this election.
MARTIN: And like I said, Erin --
PONNURU: And I think everybody understands that if the party labels were reversed, as Roland pointed out, there's not a single Democrat or liberal pundit who would be defending this below-the-belt tactic on the part of Harry Reid.
MARTIN: And that's politics. The bottom line is if the shoe was reversed, I guarantee --
PONNURU: So why are you playing it Roland?
MARTIN: -- you the "National Review" and the GOP would be all over the Democrats saying release your taxes and you know it.
PONNURU: The "National Review" said that Romney should release his taxes.
PONNURU: That doesn't make this not a McCarthyite low blow on the part of Harry Reid.
PONNURU: You've got to call these things as you see them, not just be a political hack for your --
MARTIN: I do.
PONNURU: -- for your team, Roland!
MARTIN: No, no, first of all, I do and I'm calling this politics. And when you play big boy politics this is what you have to deal with.
PONNURU: Is that what you said about the birth certificate? Oh this is just politics? This is just big boy politics?
MARTIN: That's all that was. That's all that was.
PONNURU: I don't believe it.
BURNETT: Ramesh --
PONNURU: I don't believe that's what you said at the time.
BURNETT: Ramesh, I'm --
PONNURU: You're not even saying you did!
Was that what Martin said about the birth certificate issue? It's just politics?
Hardly. He was a fierce defender of the President's regularly attacking those asking for his birth ceritificate.
In fact, he got so heated about this matter with Lou Dobbs on July 23, 2009, he was asked to relax:
On April 21, 2010, Martin called Arizonans asking for Obama's birth certificate "stupid." "They are playing to the nuts on the right."
He also told host Anderson Cooper that there was a racial component to people not believing Obama was born in America:
Please notice the above video was published at YouTube by Martin himself with the title "Roland Martin on AC360: Birther Backers are Stupid."
As such, Martin hardly felt calls for Obama's birth certificate were just politics.
Yet in his view, Reid's unsubstantiated and unattributed accusation regarding Romney's taxes is.
Seems Ponnuru was right on the money about who the political hack on the screen was.