Mitt Romney most decidedly does not have a health care problem – he has a problem of prejudice.
Today he gave a speech on what he did as governor of Massachusetts and what he would do as POTUS. The video is here. It was a good speech, it looked the issues hard in the face and it dealt with them. Romney did a fine job (his slides are here) of explaining what he did and how it contrasts with Obamacare. But the reaction has been almost universal criticism – and virtually all of it fails to engage with Romney and what he said. In other words, it is not criticism, it’s attack.
The Wall Street Journal cast the die for this response even before the speech was given. Rather than wait for the man to speak, and react to what he said, they simply savaged him. Isn’t that “prejudice” down to its Latin roots, pre-judging? The speech was followed by an equally savage, and even less substantive, reaction on the front page of National Review Online. It should be noted that National Review officially endorsed Romney in the last primary cycle and Massachusetts health care was in place then. Where was the invective at that time? Some go so far as to declare Romney’s candidacy over before it has even begun. Then of course there were the countless blog posts and reaction pieces, virtually all of which were savage, but without any response to what was actually said.
Worse yet, they fail to address the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma in which Romney finds himself. Nothing short of complete repudiation of the Massachusetts health care system would have satisfied them, but of course, if Romney had done that they would have whipped out the old reliable “flip-flop” meme and the savaging would have continued apace. As Romney himself said, if he repudiated what happened as so many want, he would have to lie. Chris Cillizza seems to stand alone in getting this point.
It is the non-substantive, uncritical, and prejudicial nature of the discussion that I find most disturbing. I have said for a while now, that there are suspicions of Romney looking for a home – “flip-flop,” “Mormon,” whatever. But if this reaction is any measure – it’s not suspicion, it’s animosity. It is inviting to try and find the psychological roots of this animus. Again religion comes to mind, or perhaps projection of anger at Obama, or maybe simply feeling betrayed that he was not able to close the deal last time? Regardless, it would be pure speculation. What is important is to examine the ramifications of this reaction to our party and its hopes for the White House in 2012.
While not addressing in the least what Romney actually said, the attacks are highly ideological and completely ignore the political realities of Romney’s service as governor of an incredibly liberal state. Health care was going to happen in Massachusetts from an overwhelmingly Democrat legislature. He was confronted with a stark challenge – let such a legislature proceed while standing on ideological principle, in which case Massachusetts would have ended up with something much, much worse than what it has, or engage and try to keep things closer to within reason. In fact, Romney chose to get out in front of the legislature, hoping to gain as much negotiating advantage as possible. Much that was and is objectionable about the system was passed by overriding Romney’s veto, and much else that is bad has come to pass since he left office.
To his credit Romney did not attempt to defend himself in this fashion, something that would have been a page right out of Obama’s “Blame Bush handbook.” He stood up and took responsibility for what happened on his watch.
And so we once again seem to be ready, in the name of ideology and “purity,” to eat our own. We wonder why we lose when here it is staring us in the face. The left puts charisma in front of substance and well, the current administration says it all. We put ideology in front of political reality and we end up with John McCain or Bob Dole driving up the middle, which is what opens doors for the Dems and charisma. Ideological purity is really nothing more than our version of the swoon that brought Obama to the fore.
What we need is substance in the face of political reality – something it appeared to me that Romney is offering in spades. What concerns me most is that if we continue down this path, us with our ideologues and they with their crooners, the country will end up in some sort of push me-pull you form of polar chaos.
We are supposed to be the grown-ups in the room – sober and serious – actually doing the job instead of just looking good while we pretend to do the job. Maybe once all this bile has been spilled we can get serious again, but then I am wandering into the psychology I want to avoid. Who knows, if this day is any indication, maybe we deserve Donald Trump.
Lowell adds . . .
I will add only two comments to John’s excellent analysis. First, those who continue to claim that Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare plan is very similar to the Affordable Care Act (popularly known as Obamacare) need to read the slides and listen to Romney’s speech, and then stop lying about the matter. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Democratic National Committee Chair, said as much yesterday, and that story and her comments are all over the Internet. Just Google “Wasserman,” “Romney”, and “Massachusetts. That is clearly the message that Romney’s political enemies want to get out, whether its true or not.
Second, Romney himself responded today to the Wall Street Journal’s editorial yesterday, savaging him. I must say, that was one of the nastiest editorials I have ever seen from the Journal, and as John notes, it was issued even before Romney spoke. Does the Journal editorial board have its mind made up already? Do they really want to help the Democrats dynamite the campaign of the GOP front-runner?
Here’s Romney’s very measured response:
I was not surprised to read yet another editorial in the Journal yesterday criticizing the health-care reforms we enacted in Massachusetts (“Obama’s Running Mate,” May 12). I was, however, not expecting the distortions of what we accomplished. Let me deal with some of them.
One, the editorial asserts that people in Massachusetts who wouldn’t buy coverage, even though they could afford it, was not a major fiscal problem. But as a state we were spending almost $1 billion on free care for the uninsured. What we did was convert that money into premium support for those who needed help buying a policy, and require those uninsured who could afford to buy coverage to take personal responsibility for their own health care. Two, while it’s true that insurance premiums in Massachusetts are among the highest in the nation, that was also the case before reform. A truer statement would be that getting everyone insured is not by itself enough to bring down the costs of health care. And finally, it is simply wrong to say that state spending on health care in Massachusetts has skyrocketed. The cost of the health-care plan to the state budget is “relatively modest” and well within projections, according to the independent Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. They conclude that the new state spending on reform has amounted to less than 1% of the state budget each year.
While I have had my disagreements with the Journal’s editorial board, where we find common ground is on the need to repeal ObamaCare and replace it with reforms that empower states to craft their own solutions. A one-size-fits-all plan that raises taxes and ignores the very real differences between states is the wrong course for our nation.
Time will tell whether Romney’s courageous decision to stay the course will pay off. My guess is that it will, despite the cannibalistic tendencies of my fellow conservatives.