I happen to like Mitt Romney. I’ve said before on these pages that, while Romney did not have me convinced early on in the 2008 presidential primary, by the time that he bowed out at CPAC in early 2008 he seemed as though he had sold conservative principles to the American people enough in his capacity as a candidate that he finally understood those principles and was fighting for them — not just parroting what needed to be parroted in order to garner the pre-Tea Party GOP nomination.
In the interest of complete honesty, I have been looking forward to Romney’s entrance into the 2012 campaign. It’s not that I don’t like Herman Cain, or Allen West, or Mitch Daniels (trust me, I do), but I have enjoyed watching Mitt Romney progress over the past few years. He has become less plastic and more adept at connecting with voters, all the while continuing to be outspoken in his criticism of the Obama administration’s economic and foreign policy. He even finally began to acknowledge fault in the failure of RomneyCare, his pet project during his tenure in the Massachusetts State House, and finally started making the federalism argument when attempting to explain away the albatross hanging from his neck as a potential candidate.
Earlier this week, when I heard news that Romney would be delivering a health care-specific address on Thursday, I took it as a sign that he was getting into the race, and I got excited. Indeed, I do believe that it was his intention all along to throw his proverbial hat in the ring today. Now, I don’t quite know if the timing is right.
This morning, the editorial board at The Wall Street Journal absolutely savaged Mitt Romney for his role in RomneyCare in years past, and his continuing refusal to admit the program’s abject failure. The e-board cast RomneyCare not only as the predecessor and comrade-in-arms of ObamaCare, but held the failed program up as an example of entitlements in general gone wild.
“Most immediately for his Republican candidacy, the debate over ObamaCare and the larger entitlement state may be the central question of the 2012 election,” the Journal editors argue in an op-ed entitled Obama’s Running Mate. “On that question, Mr. Romney is compromised and not credible. If he does not change his message, he might as well try to knock off Joe Biden and get on the Obama ticket.”
A sampling of the Journal‘s rationale:
Like Mr. Obama’s reform, RomneyCare was predicated on the illusion that insurance would be less expensive if everyone were covered. Even if this theory were plausible, it is not true in Massachusetts today. So as costs continue to climb, Mr. Romney’s Democratic successor now wants to create a central board of political appointees to decide how much doctors and hospitals should be paid for thousands of services.
The Romney camp blames all this on a failure of execution, not of design. But by this cause-and-effect standard, Mr. Romney could push someone out of an airplane and blame the ground for killing him. Once government takes on the direct or implicit liability of paying for health care for everyone, the only way to afford it is through raw political control of all medical decisions.
Mr. Romney’s refusal to appreciate this, then and now, reveals a troubling failure of political understanding and principle. The raucous national debate over health care isn’t about this or that technocratic detail, but about basic differences over the role of government. In the current debate over Medicare, Paul Ryan wants to reduce costs by encouraging private competition while Mr. Obama wants the cost-cutting done by a body of unelected experts like the one emerging in Massachusetts.
Mr. Romney’s fundamental error was assuming that such differences could be parsed by his own group of experts, as if government can be run by management consultants. He still seems to believe he somehow squared the views of Jonathan Gruber, the MIT evangelist for ObamaCare, with those of the Heritage Foundation.
In reality, his ostensible liberal allies like the late Ted Kennedy saw an opening to advance their own priorities, and in Mr. Romney they took advantage of a politician who still doesn’t seem to understand how government works. It’s no accident that RomneyCare’s most vociferous defenders now are in the White House and left-wing media and think tanks. They know what happened, even if he doesn’t.
Brutal, and brutally damaging for a campaign in its infancy. In perhaps the funniest tweet of the evening yesterday, National Review‘s Andrew Stiles shared the following text and link (WARNING: Tons of Explicit Language at the link):
All kidding aside, consider that no matter who the eventual GOP nominee may be, he or she will want the blessing and endorsement of The Wall Street Journal. After an introduction like this on what inevitably is the eve of the launch of the Romney campaign, the question remains as to how the Journal, should Romney prove to be the nominee, reconcile any endorsement with such a pointed commentary. As an editorial board, how do you suggest that the Republican nominee run alongside the incumbent Democrat at the start of primary season, and then endorse him as the GOP nominee at the end?
Part of me thinks that the Journal‘s piece is not fair. After all, Romney stood fast against unions and the auto bailout in a November 2008 New York Times op-ed entitled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt,” and has made cogent and strenuous arguments against Barack Obama’s foreign policy, like the op-ed he penned for National Review in April 2009. From “A Timid Advocate of Freedom”:
The words spoken by the leader of the free world can expand the frontiers of freedom or shrink them. When Ronald Reagan called on Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” a surge of confidence rose that would ultimately breach the bounds of the evil empire. It was the same confidence that had been ignited decades earlier when John F. Kennedy declared to a people surrounded by Communism that they were not alone. “We are all Berliners,” he said, because “freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s confident commitment, spoken as he led us into the war that would free millions in Europe, inspired not only Americans but freedom fighters around the globe: “The American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.” Such words of solidarity, of confidence, and of unwavering conviction that America is indeed “the last best hope on earth” are what freedom’s friends would have expected to hear from our president when our nation was slandered. Instead he offered silence, smiles, and a handshake.
Even more troubling than what he has or has not said is what he has not done. Kim Jong Il launched a long-range missile on the very day President Obama addressed the world about the peril of nuclear proliferation. As one of the world’s most oppressive and tyrannical regimes is on the brink of securing the “game changing” capability to reach American shores with a nuclear weapon, the president shrinks from action: no seizure of North Korean funds, no severance of banking access, no blockade.
Not to be outdone by Kim Jong Il, President Ahmadinejad announced that his nation has successfully mastered every step necessary to enrich uranium, violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it has signed. So, like North Korea, Iran will have changed the world’s equation for peace and security: It will be capable of devastating Europe and America, and of annihilating Israel. And as with North Korea, the Obama administration chooses inaction — no new severe sanctions, no hint of military options. Ahmadinejad can act with confidence that the forceful options once on our proverbial table have been shelved.
The problem, however, is that the editorial board at The Wall Street Journal is absolutely right. Think back to the summer of 2009. Think back to Christmas Eve of that year. Think back to “deem and pass.” Health care reform will absolutely be at the center of the 2012 election, and will only be a small part of the bigger picture that is entitlement reform and America’s fiscal future with and without it.
Mitt Romney has the economic bona fides. The question, as appropriately raised by the Journal, is whether or not Mitt Romney has learned how government works. Furthermore, even if he has, can he explain that transformation to the American people? My guess, given his scheduled address later today, is that we’ll know soon whether Mitt Romney launches his campaign from a position of strength, or from the doldrums of public opinion in this Tea Party age.
It’s not as though health care reform is the only issue in which Romney has made his presence known.