Absurdly Premature 2012 Watch, Vol. 12: Romney's Perplexing Response to Obamacare

 

For a little while there, Mitt Romney was beginning to act like a humanoid. In order to position himself as the "grown-up" 2012 alternative to the rabble-rousing right-wing fringe (see: Palin, Sarah), the former Massachusetts governor has spent the past few months shedding the ill-fitting, hardcore conservatism of his 2008 run and staking out reasonable positions on a number of important issues. He has admitted, for example, that the Democratic stimulus package "will accelerate" America's economic recovery. He has defended the necessity of the TARP program. He has even called global warming a "real and present danger." As the Boston Phoenix's David S. Bernstein puts it, "

Which is why I was somewhat surprised when Romney's aggressive statement on the passage of Obamacare landed in my inbox around 10 a.m. this morning. Highlights:

America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nationrather than bringing us together, ushering in a new kind of politics, and rising above raw partisanship, he has succumbed to the lowest denominator of incumbent power: justifying the means by extolling the ends. He promised better; we deserved better ... It is an historic usurpation of the legislative processhe unleashed the nuclear option, enlisted not a single Republican vote in either chamber, bribed reluctant members of his own party, paid-off his union backers, scapegoated insurers, and justified his act with patently fraudulent accounting. What Barack Obama has ushered into the American political landscape is not good for our country; in the words of an ancient maxim, "what starts twisted, ends twisted"... For these reasons and more, the act should be repealed. That campaign begins today.

If this is Romney's strategy for unseating Obama in 2012, he's in trouble. It's not just that politics of repealing reform will be disastrous for Republicans, as my Gaggle colleague Katie Connolly explained earlier today. It's that Romney is a completely unconvincing advocate for the argument he's trying to make. As I've written before, the biggest roadblock to Romney receiving the 2012 GOP presidential nomination is the fact that he proposed and passed a health-care reform plan in Massachusetts that's almost identical to Obama'sexcept without any of the cost controls, making it less fiscally responsible, and therefore less conservative, than the new national law. In the past, Romney has tried to distinguish between the two initiatives by attacking the public option (which is no longer part of Obamacare), speaking out against Medicare cuts (which are necessary to keep per capita costs down), and decrying price controls (which are meant to prevent premiums from skyrocketing). None of these talking points, however, won Romney many new fansespecially among his fellow Republicans.

Which explains, I suppose, why Romney has now resorted to a different approach, taking issue in this morning's statement with the process that produced Obamacare rather than the policies it's designed to implement. As far as I can tell, the thinking here is that while most GOP primary voters can't differentiate between Obamacare and Romneycare, they definitely don't like the way Obama's plan became law: along partisan lines, amid parliamentary maneuvering, and with all kinds of unsavory backroom deals baked in. According to Mitt, the road to Romneycare was far more dignified; heck, only four members of the Bay State's 200-seat legislature voted against it. And that's how he'd preside as president: "by bringing us together, ushering in a new kind of politics, and rising above raw partisanship," unlike that rapscallion Obama.

There are two problems with this strategy, however. First, launching a divisive, impractical, PR-driven campaign to repeal health-care reform at the same time you're calling for "a new kind of politics" is just a little bit contradictory, so it only reinforces the perception, fair or not, that Romney is a soulless automaton willing to say anything to get elected. And second, what Romney is actually saying—what he's actually accusing Obama of—doesn't make any sense. Imagine, for example, that Obama was the governor of Massachusettsand Romney was a Republican planning to challenge him in 2012. Imaginethat the state legislature had just voted to pass Obamacare. Imaginethat all 178 Democratic legislators had voted for the bill, and all 20Republicans had, in an effort to present a unified front and gainadvantage in upcoming elections, voted against it.

Would Romney still be accusing Obama of "anunconscionable abuse of power"? If so, no one would be buying it. The only difference between my hypothetical Bay State scenario and the actual vote in Washington is the compositionof the legislatures in question: 90 percent Democratic in Boston versus60 percent Democratic in D.C. With a larger Republican contingent on Capitol Hill than on Beacon Hill, the debate over Obamacare inevitably became more contentious. But in neither case did voters elect the number of hostile representatives necessary to block reform, and so the bills passed. This isn't an abomination. It's how democracy works. 

Romney expects us to believe that his preferred package of health-care fixes represented "the ultimate conservative plan" when backed by a liberal legislature, then suddenly became "an historic usurpation of the legislative process" when forced to wend its way through a more moderate body. But the difference was context, not content. Romney's maneuver is meant to distract Republican primary voters from this simple fact. But I'm guessing it won't be very effective. 

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