Wall Street Journal: Obama’s Running Mate Might as well be Mitt Romney; UPDATED: Surprisingly, Romney’s Speech Didn’t Go Over Very Well

An excellent editorial appears in today’s Wall Street Journal.  As most are doubtlessly aware, Mitt Romney will attempt to reinvent himself yet again today in Ann Arbor Michigan when he delivers a speech in which he’ll claim that repealing Obamacare will be his number one priority.  The constantly evolving Mittster also penned a piece in today’s USA Today, essentially outlining what he will say in his speech.  In either case, Romney is not credible on this issue and demonstrates a continuing cluelessness when it comes to his culpability in the resulting disaster known as Obamacare.  The WSJ piece begins with a little background:

As everyone knows, the health reform Mr. Romney passed in 2006 as Massachusetts Governor was the prototype for President Obama’s version and gave national health care a huge political boost. Mr. Romney now claims ObamaCare should be repealed, but his failure to explain his own role or admit any errors suggests serious flaws both in his candidacy and as a potential President.

There’s a lot to learn from the failure of the ObamaCare model that began in Massachusetts, which is now moving to impose price controls on all hospitals, doctors and other providers. Not that anyone would know listening to Mr. Romney. In the paperback edition of his campaign book "No Apology," he calls the plan a "success," and he has defended it in numerous media appearances as he plans his White House run.

The "success" to which Romney refers is a figment of his imagination.  Indeed the failure of Romneycare is becoming more and more clear, with the inevitable and predictable rationing mandated by the plan now resulting in an average wait of 48 days to see a doctor.  On the bright side, Massachusetts citizens still have a way to go to match the waiting times in Canada and the U.K., but under Romneycare that’s where they’re inevitably headed.  Romney, under his flawed understanding of free market principles, is fond of claiming Romneycare’s individual mandate (that served as the blueprint for Obama’s mandate), is really a conservative principle of individual responsibility or something, but the Journal explains how this kind of thinking is pure poppycock, and not indicative of anything approaching a conservative philosophy:

In the name of personal responsibility, Mr. Romney also introduced the individual mandate, first in the nation, requiring everyone to buy coverage or else pay a penalty. Free riders, he said, transferred their own costs to others, either through higher premiums or taxes. This is the same argument the Obama Administration is now using to justify the coercion of the individual mandate in the federal courts. Because the states have police powers under the Constitution, Mr. Romney’s plan posed no legal problems. His blunder was his philosophy of government.

The people who don’t buy coverage though they can afford it aren’t really a major fiscal problem—unless the goal of the individual mandate is to force them to subsidize others. People who are priced out of coverage require subsidies—so in practice the logic of the individual mandate is that it is a government mandate too. Entitlements automatically grow and grow, and then the political class begins to make decisions that used to be left to markets and individuals.

Much as Mr. Romney wants to deny it, Romneycare’s individiual mandate was the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent, and his supposed "free-market" individual mandate was nothing more than a mandate for the government to expand its power in the health care sector.  Now residents of Massachusetts are less empowered than ever to make their own health care decisions, and health care costs are skyrocketing out of control resulting in the inevitable rationing discussed above. But this wasn’t supposed to happen according to Romney.  Another of his flawed premises was that mandating everyone to buy insurance would eliminate the free rider problem and allow costs to fall.  This was also, predictably, wrong:

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 prospect of having government decide how much businesses and individuals should be paid as opposed to the free market is a truly terrifying prospect, yet it was and is an entirely predictable result of Romney’s (and Obama’s) plan.  When the money runs out and rationing becomes intolerable (see death panels), the all-powerful government will attempt to assuage people’s concerns by first demonizing health care providers, then restricting the flow of resources to them.  This will, of course, only make things worse as capital will flow elsewhere and the best and brightest students will avoid careers in the health care field.  Why go through all that education to be, essentially, a government bureaucrat? Romney, as is his custom, blames Romneycare’s failures on everyone but himself, but the Wall Street Journal isn’t buying what he’s selling (strange he admits there are failures when he still claims Romneycare was a rousing success):

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.

Romney, the Wall Street Journal posits, suffers from the fundamentally flawed premise shared by all elitists, whether Democrat or Republican: the unfounded belief in the superiority of themselves, and that one only has to assemble the right group of credentialed, deep thinkers to make everything better:

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.

This, I believe, is Romney’s fundamental flaw, not only with regard to healthcare, but everything else as well.  So-called technocrats like Romney think there’s no problem government can’t solve and, more importantly, no problem government shouldn’t solve.  This philosophy is not only wrong, but directly contradictory to America’s tradition, as specified in the constitution, of limited self-government.  There is a reason the Founders imbued the constitution with negative rights (i.e. specified what the government couldn’t do).  The more government takes on, the less free we are. As Thomas Jefferson noted more than 200 years ago, "those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one." Romney clearly doesn’t understand this, and his Romneycare debacle is irrefutable evidence of his philosophical ignorance…and unfitness for the presidency

Next, the Journal notes the obvious: that Romney was effectively a dupe for the Left, and they simply used him as cover to push through their long-cherished goal of government run health care:

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.

There’s no argument here.  Events speak for themselves: Romney, nominally a Republican, signed universal health care into law, and it served as the blueprint for Obamacare.  End of story. The editorial closes with the following assessment of Romney’s candidacy:

For a potential President whose core argument is that he knows how to revive free market economic growth, this amounts to a fatal flaw. Presidents lead by offering a vision for the country rooted in certain principles, not by promising a technocracy that runs on "data." Mr. Romney’s highest principle seems to be faith in his own expertise.

More immediately for his Republican candidacy, the debate over ObamaCare and the larger entitlement state may be the central question of the 2012 election. 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.

Hmmmmm.  This brings up an interesting exit question.  What is more entertaining: Biden’s endless gaffes or Romney’s incessant pandering and flip-flopping? Be honest.  Read the entire WSJ editorial here.    

Update:  The verdict from the Twitterverse is in on Mitt’s big speech today: he’s toast.  Here’s a brief sampling:

OneFineJay:

I’m at work and thanks to Twitter I’m not missing the political suicide of THE DECADE.

Phillip Klein:

Romney making passionate case for why it’s okay to violate personal freedom at state level

Jonah Goldberg:

Gosh, I hope he doesn’t end this by taking out a can of gasoline and then pours it over his head.

Mollie Hemingway:

I think Romney took the WSJ suggestion to run as Obama’s mate a BIT too seriously.

Legal Insurrection:

Please make him stop

Update II: National Review’s Avik Roy discusses Romney’s speech in a post titled "Mitt Romney’s Illogical, Terrible Health-Care Address":

Mitt Romney just gave a more articulate defense of Obamacare than President Obama ever has. He continues to believe that the individual mandate is a good idea, despite the fact that the “free-rider” problem is a myth. His effort to make a distinction between Romneycare and Obamacare was not persuasive: If anything, he convincingly made the opposite case, that Romneycare and Obamacare are based on the same fundamental concept.

Phillip Klein at the Washington Examiner writes:

If Romney really is interested in repealing and replacing ObamaCare, the best thing he could do to help the cause is to stop running for president.

Update III: (h/t Mel) This, my friends, never gets old:

Update IV: Jonah Goldberg’s take:

I just watched Mitt Romney’s much-anticipated speech on healthcare, which was vigorously pre-butted by the Wall Street Journal this morning.

It was a sincere, intelligent, cogent, informed political disaster.

The essence of Romney’s position is: I stand by my successful healthcare plan in Massachusetts, but ObamaCare is a disaster because it does all of the things that RomneyCare does, just on a national level. So, if I am elected president I will give waivers to states so they can repeat my mistakes if they want to, or, if they are smart, they will reject both my approach and Obama’s.

I don’t think it will work.

Update V: (h/t Jim R) Michael Cannon wrote an excellent piece today at Cato before the speech in which he makes the unassailable point that if Republicans are dumb enough to nominate "Mandate Mitt" in 2012, they will lose any chance they have to repeal Obamacare:

When Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney delivers his health care speech today, the question on everyone’s mind will be whether and how he will try to square his support for repealing President Obama’s government takeover of health care with the fact that he imposed an identical government takeover on Massachusetts when he was that state’s governor in 2006. The answer is: he can’t.

Romney bears as much responsibility for ObamaCare as any Democrat, and all the Republican health policy boilerplate in the world won’t change that fact. The Washington Post has unearthed an interview where Romney fantasized about “a nation that’s taken a mandate approach.” If “Mandate Mitt” once again clings to his untenable position that RomneyCare is good but ObamaCare is bad, he will reinforce the perception that he has no principles and will say anything to get elected. But admitting that RomneyCare was a mistake would also reinforce that perception — he was for RomneyCare, before he was against it.

[…]

If Republicans pick Romney as their standard-bearer, they will be choosing someone who, as the Wall Street Journal editorializes, is either a leftist on health care, too clueless to realize the Left played him for a fool, or so unprincipled that he doesn’t care. The Obama campaign would like nothing more. The attack ads write themselves. Romney would become a laughingstock — if he isn’t already — and would drag the ObamaCare-repeal effort down with him.

Cannon also links to the following video to buttress his point:



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