This primary campaign season has been chock-full of Republican candidates offering various explanations for now-unpopular positions they've held in the past. Tim Pawlenty has apologized for supporting cap and trade legislation, Rick Santorum has admitted that his support for an unfunded Medicaid drug program was a mistake, and Donald Trump has disavowed basically every position he's ever held in his life. But no candidate is saddled with an albatross from the past as badly as Mitt Romney. Today, Romney made a highly anticipated speech in an early effort to quell the conservative disgust over RomneyCare, the heath-care reform plan he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts — and even more specifically, the allegedly freedom-crushing, un-American individual mandate that required Massachusetts citizens to purchase health insurance, which was later adopted into President Obama's health-care reform. The Times reports that Romney declined to run away from the legislation, or admit that he was wrong:
"A lot of pundits are saying I should stand up and say this whole thing is a mistake, admit it and walk away," Romney said in a speech at the University of Michigan .... "There's only one problem: it wouldn't be honest. I did what I believed was right for the people of my state."
Instead, Romney tried to defend the mandate by contrasting it with the federal mandate that Republicans have rallied against (and sued over) for the past two years. Romney on his own mandate:
Romney defended the Massachusetts mandate, saying its goal was "to insist on personal responsibility, to say to folks who could afford to buy insurance, either buy insurance yourself or pay your own way. Either have insurance, or we’ll charge you for the cost the state will have to cover you if you get seriously ill."
Everyone recognizes that Obama's mandate is supposed to do the same exact thing, but to Romney, there's a huge difference: Massachusetts is a state, and mandates are undoubtedly Constitutional when enforced by a state. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
[H]is main defense was constitutional. Under the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, the states have the power to experiment the way Massachusetts did, he said. Quoting former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, he called states "the laboratories of democracy" where such experiments drive innovation.
"I'm convinced, however, that the Obama administration fundamentally does not believe in that experiment," he said.
He's made the same argument plenty of times before, and it may appease some critics. But the Wall Street Journal isn't one of them. In a scathing editorial this morning, they reiterated that a mandate is abhorrent at any level of government:
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.
We'll never know if completely disavowing RomneyCare would have been a better strategy for Romney. Most likely, it would have only further cemented his reputation as a politician who flip-flops as political expediency dictates. Either way, he's chosen the federalism argument, and that's the one he'll have to stick with through the campaign. He's not going to win over the Journal that way, but we'll have to wait until the primaries heat up until we find out if it can convince the voters, or if the voters even care about health-care reform as much as everyone assumes they will.