I’ve thought for a while now that Mitt Romney’s blatant hypocrisy on the subject of health care policy was a surmountable challenge. After all, conservatives elites knew his record on health care in 2008 and many conservatives elites liked him fine in 2008. Indeed, many conservatives elites considered him the more authentically conservative choice than John McCain and questions about his record tended to focus on his past statements about abortion. So, yes, it’s hypocritical of Romney to turn around and bash the Affordable Care Act, but this is a hypocrisy that much of the movement shares and they have it in their power to forgive him if they want.
Today, though, the Wall Street Journal editorial page previews Romney’s health care speech by indicating that there will be no forgiveness:
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.
To me, this is just more hypocrisy. Maybe there’s someone ought there who believes in free market health care. Someone who wants to eliminate the tax subsidies that make employer provided insurance possible, someone who wants to cut Medicare spending to $0 per year, someone who wants to end regulation of prescription drugs and the licensing of doctors. But I’ve never met that person. What I meet instead are lots of people who want, in fact, to debate this or that technocratic detail but who sometimes like to cloak themselves in the rhetoric of free markets. Governor Mitt Romney’s big conceptual breakthrough was to see that this is approach is BS, that the government is deeply entrenched in health care policy, and that even a conservatives ought to be interested in trying to get it right. It’s too bad that he’s chosen to stop defending that idea and has instead embraced this doomed effort to flee his record.