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Romney in the Las Vegas Debates

I stayed up for the debates last night, and I saw or listened to most of what went on. From time to time, CNN.com failed me, and I missed a few minutes. Nothing that took place changed my mind much.

Newt Gingrich was tolerably impressive. Rick Perry was less disappointing than in the past, but he did not distinguish himself. His attempt to exploit the fact that Mitt Romney had twice hired a lawn service that employed illegal immigrants was lame. I expected Anderson Cooper to orchestrate an assault on Herman Cain, as his predecessors had orchestrated assaults on Rick Perry, and that he did. Herman Cain’s defense of his 9-9-9 proposal was a lot less strong than the proposal itself, as I feared it would be. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum did nothing to help themselves. The latter’s boasting about twice winning a Senate seat in a blue state and his failure to mention that he later lost that seat by a whopping margin of 18% was, I thought, a bit much. The best description I read was in John Podhoretz’ column in The New York Post:

At the moment about half an hour into last night’s Republican candidate kerfuffle when it looked (seriously!) like Mitt Romney and Rick Perry might haul off and start busting each other in the bazoo, it became clear that the Emmy for Best New Television Drama should go to the weekly series called “The Republican Presidential Debates.”

There is more melodrama than on “Pan Am,” more comedy than on “Whitney,” and more forensic analysis going on before, during and after than on “CSI,” CSI: New York,” “CSI: Miami” and “CSI: Moose Jaw” combined.

Those who are still in mourning for the series “Lost” have finally found their new obsession: The story of eight mysterious strangers trapped in an alternate reality trying to figure out how to escape an endless series of convention centers and cable channels by finally getting transported to the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire for judgment by the most mysterious force of all: The Republican primary voter.

The rest of John’s account is – let me add—well worth reading. Among other things, he remarks, “Sen. Rick Santorum . . . took off after Romney’s signature health-care proposal in Massachusetts with the first really hard-hitting attack in these debates on Romney’s most glaring weakness as a Republican candidate.”

That exchange and the exchanges involving Newt Gingrich and others that followed deserve close attention, and they got it today in a very important post on The Weekly Standard website by Jeffrey H. Anderson. He begins by reporting Romney’s statement in the debate: “You know, this I think is either our eighth or ninth debate. And each chance I’ve had to talk about Obamacare, I’ve made it very clear, and also in my book. And at the time, by the way, I crafted the [Massachusetts] plan, in the last campaign, I was asked, is this something that you would have the whole nation do? And I said, no, this is something that was crafted for Massachusetts. It would be wrong to adopt this as a nation.” Then, Anderson lays out the facts:

In fact, however, as Newsweek writes, “During a speech in Baltimore on Feb. 2, 2007, Romney outlined his ambitions for the Massachusetts plan. ‘I’m proud of what we’ve done,’ he said. ‘If Massachusetts succeeds in implementing it, then that will be a model for the nation.’”

At the very least, Romney has clearly viewed his efforts as a model for other states across the nation. On April 11, 2006, the day before he signed his health care legislation into law, he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (called “Health Care for Everyone? We Found a Way”), “How much of our health-care plan applies to other states? A lot.”

In his book, No Apology, he wrote of Ted Kennedy (on page 174 in the hardback edition), “[T]o his credit he saw an opportunity to work in a bipartisan fashion to try an experiment that might become a model for other states.” Three pages later (on page 177), Romney wrote, “From now on, no one in Massachusetts has to worry about losing his or her health insurance if there is a job change or a loss in income; everyone is insured and pays only what he or she can afford….We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country….”

ABC News reports that those last 11 words were removed in the book’s paperback version, validating Santorum’s and Perry’s claim.

Anderson then quotes Gingrich’s intervention: “The Boston Herald today reported that the state of Massachusetts is fining a local small business $3,000 because their $750-a-month insurance plan is inadequate, according to the bureaucrats in Boston. Now, there’s a fundamental difference between trying to solve the problems of this country from the top down and trying to create environments in which doctors and patients and families solve the problem from the bottom up. And candidly, Mitt, your plan ultimately, philosophically, it’s not Obamacare, and that’s not a fair charge. But your plan essentially is one more big government, bureaucratic, high-cost system, which candidly could not have been done by any other state because no other state had a Medi[caid] program as lavish as yours, and no other state got as much money from the federal government under the Bush administration for this experiment. So there’s a lot of big government behind Romneycare — not as much as Obamacare, but a heck of a lot more than your campaign is admitting.”

Anderson follows up with Romney’s response to the substance of Gingrich’s charge: “[W]e don’t have a government insurance plan [in Massachusetts]. What we do is rely on private insurers, and people — 93 percent of our people who are already insured, nothing changed. For the people who didn’t have insurance, they get private insurance, not government insurance.”  Then, he points out:

The problem with this response is (A) it could just as easily be used as a defense of Obamacare, and (B) it’s partially false.

Obamacare also doesn’t have “a government insurance plan”; its proposed government-run “public option” initially galvanized public opposition more than any other single feature of the overhaul, and as a result the Democrats eventually abandoned it. In his book, expecting a public option to be part of Obamacare, Romney emphasized this as a key distinction between his own efforts and Obama’s (page 176): “In 2009, the national health-care policy supported by President Barack Obama was often and erroneously reported as being based up on [sic] the plan we had enacted in Massachusetts. There were some very big differences — in particular, our plan did not include a public insurance option.”  But, in the end, neither does Obama’s.

(In another sense, Obamacare does have a government insurance plan, in that it calls for a colossal expansion of Medicaid, extending it into parts of the middle class. But the Massachusetts health care legislation also significantly expanded Medicaid.)

Romney’s 93 percent claim is false and is akin to saying that for the 90 percent of Americans who were already insured (pre-Obamacare), nothing will change under Obamacare. Both in Massachusetts and under Obamacare, however, essentially everyone — not just 7 or 10 percent of residents — is forced to buy government-approved health insurance under penalty of law. Moreover, those who already have insurance risk losing their preexisting insurance, face the certain prospect of losing some of their liberty as the government takes over an increased portion of their lives, and have to contend with even faster rising health costs — which we have seen in Massachusetts and which the Medicare chief actuary predicts we’ll see under Obamacare.

In sum, in last night’s debate and in the earlier debates, when it came to Romneycare, Mitt Romney was more than a bit disingenuous, and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich did us a service by calling him on it – as, I remind you, Barack Obama will certainly do in spades down the road.

Some months ago, I wrote on Ricochet, “I shudder at the prospect that Mitt Romney will gain the Republican nomination.” Then, I explained:

As I argued in my book Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift, there is built into liberal democracy a natural tendency to drift in the direction of the administrative state with its concentration of power in the executive branch of the central government and its entitlement programs. This propensity can only be successfully resisted if we understand its origins and if we take cognizance of the manner in which the American regime, as envisaged by the Founding generation, was designed to stand in its way. This propensity has been systematically and quite effectively exploited by the Progressives and their heirs now for something like a century. What they understand that we need to understand is that a reversal of the trend is well nigh impossible – well nigh, let me add, but not quite. Well nigh because those in possession of entitlements will scream bloody murder if they are threatened. And not quite because, thanks in part to our unwitting benefactor Barack Obama, we no longer have the resources to support the entitlements state. We can certainly raise taxes, as President Obama and the Democrats intend to do, but that does not mean that in the long run we will take in more revenue – and it is massively increased revenue that the entitlement state needs. The Progressives are banking on the unwillingness of a considerable part of the electorate to give up the subsidies on which they live, and on this they have always to date successfully banked. Right now, however, the fiscal crisis of the welfare state offers us an opening, and I am confident that Mitt Romney will miss it. He is the sort of man who never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Since 1928, when Calvin Coolidge relinquished the Presidency, the office has been held by a number of Republicans – Herbert Hoover, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Only one of these has displayed an understanding of the problem we face, and he was, for understandable reasons, too preoccupied with wining the Cold War, to confront that problem with all of his energy. Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush père, and Bush fils were all what I call managerial progressives. Their claim over against the liberals was that they could manage the administrative state more efficiently and effectively than their counterparts. Rarely if ever did any of them mention the Founders. Rarely if ever did they appeal to the first principles of our form of government as they are expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Rarely if ever did they appeal to the Constitution in opposition to the jurisprudential drift of the Supreme Court. Limited government was not part of their vocabulary. They were without clue.

The reasons are simple enough. Not one of these men was properly educated in the principles of American government. They had their virtues. They were practical men, can-do sorts with a pretty good understanding of how to get from here to there. In terms of moral understanding, as it is applied to political matters, however, they were bankrupt or pretty nearly so. The ordinary senior at Hillsdale College these days has a better grasp of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the conditions of freedom than did any of these men.

The same is true of nearly all Republicans. They come into Congress, the Senate, and state government from the Chambers of Commerce. Few of them have any sort of political education. Most are businessmen. If they have something more than an undergraduate education, it is reflected by their possessing a law degree or an MBA – which is to say, they have been trained to be managerial progressives. Our law schools and our business schools owe their origins to the Progressives. They were created for the purpose of encouraging what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “rational administration.”

The reason why I oppose Mitt Romney is simple, He was born to destroy everything that we have accomplished since the Tea-Party Movement emerged in the Spring of 2009. Romney is the very model of a managerial progressive. He has one great virtue. He knows how to run things; he knows how to organize things. He would make a good Secretary of Commerce. He has no understanding of the principles that underpin our government. And, in fact, like most businessmen, he is a man almost devoid of political principles. Give him a problem, and he will make a highly intelligent attempt to solve it. Ask him to identify which problems should be left to ordinary people and what are the proper limits to government’s reach, and he would not understand the question. He is what you might call a social engineer; and, in his estimation, we are little more than the cogs and wheels that need to be engineered.

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Not surprisingly, Romney is a political chameleon. When he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994, [as you will see in this video, the whole of which you should watch] he rejected the legacy of Ronald Reagan and embraced abortion. When he ran for the Republican presidential nomination, he altered his profile in both regards. It seems never to have crossed his mind when, as Governor, he confronted a Democratic legislature in Massachusetts intent on introducing socialized medicine that the individual mandate is tyrannical. Flexibility is what substitute for virtue in his case.

Romney’s political instincts are disastrous. He will betray the friends of liberty and limited government at the first opportunity. If he is nominated, the people who joined the Tea Party and turned out in 2010 to give the Republicans an historic victory are likely to stay home. If, by some miracle, the progenitor of Romneycare actually defeats the progenitor of Obamacare, he will quickly embrace the entitlement state and present himself as the man who can make it hum, as he did in Massachusetts. He is not better than Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush père, and Bush fils. He is cut from the same cloth, and in practice he is apt to be far, far worse. The consequence will be the death in American life or at least the decay of the impulse embodied within the Tea-Party Movement.

What I learned from Jeffrey Anderson’s article confirmed my fears. If Romney is not just another managerial progressive in the tradition of Hoover, Eisenhower, Nixon, Bush père, and Bush fils, although I am not from Missouri, he and his supporters will have to show me in detail.

I do not mean to say that we have a viable alternative to Romney. I wish that we did, but I fear that we do not, and time and again I have argued that the field is exceptionally weak and that the Republican Party has let us down. It nonetheless gives me a bit of hope to read in Anderson’s piece that, when asked whether he wanted to salvage anything from Obamacare, Herman Cain answered, “Here’s where I would start in answering that question. It’s called H.R. 3400,” which Anderson describes as “a sensible, well-conceived proposal introduced in the midst of the Obamacare debate by Dr. Tom Price (R., Ga.), who was then the head of the Republican Study Committee, and 54 cosponsors.” Cain went on to say, “This was introduced back in 2009, but you didn’t hear a lot of talk about it. Instead of government being imposed on our system…it basically passes market-centered, market-driven, patient-centered sort of reforms to allow association health plans, to allow loser-pay laws, to allow insurance products to be sold across state lines, and a whole list of other things. So that’s a great place to start.”

Cain may not be ready for primetime, but his instincts on domestic matters are good. The real obstacle to improving health insurance in this country is the system of federal and state regulations governing the health insurance market today. Price’s proposal, which would transform that regulatory scheme – among other things, by lifting the ban on interstate commerce in health insurance and introducing tort reform – would be an excellent start.