Alex Massie

Obamacare = Romneycare = Mitt’s the Biggest Loser?

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Jon Chait loves a good fight so I'm not surprised he's in I Told You So mood today. I kinda, sorta, less confidently, told you so too even after Massachusetts when the prospect for HCR were pretty bleak and Fred Barnes was saying it was dead, dead, dead.

Well, we all get things wrong and sometimes perhaps we get a little lucky. The chap with the most to lose from last night's vote - in terms of politics and 2012 if nothing else - is our old chum Mitt Romney. No wonder Romney released this statement:

America has just witnessed an unconscionable abuse of power. President Obama has betrayed his oath to the nation -- rather than bringing us together, ushering in a new kind of politics, and rising above raw partisanship, he has succumbed to the lowest denominator of incumbent power: justifying the means by extolling the ends. He promised better; we deserved better.

He calls his accomplishment “historic” -- in this he is correct, although not for the reason he intends. Rather, it is an historic usurpation of the legislative process -- he unleashed the nuclear option, enlisted not a single Republican vote in either chamber, bribed reluctant members of his own party, paid-off his union backers, scapegoated insurers, and justified his act with patently fraudulent accounting. What Barack Obama has ushered into the American political landscape is not good for our country; in the words of an ancient maxim, “what starts twisted, ends twisted.”

His health-care bill is unhealthy for America. It raises taxes, slashes the more private side of Medicare, installs price controls, and puts a new federal bureaucracy in charge of health care. It will create a new entitlement even as the ones we already have are bankrupt. For these reasons and more, the act should be repealed. That campaign begins today.

In other words, Romney is now pledged to running against his own record. This is an unusual strategy but one forced upon him by a) his actual record and b) the temper of the Republican party and conservative movement. All this trouble over one tiny bill he signed when Governor of Massachusetts! Because Obamacre is, in the view of plenty of sensible observers, merely a souped-up version of the Romneycare Mitt signed into law in Boston - and that he boasted about during the 2008 campaign. Back then it was a case of "I can fix health care because I've done it in the Bay State". How times change.

Now, of course, he must disavow this and pretend it never happened. In a sense, mind you, this merely shows that, for all that the MA reforms may not have been perfect and for all that they may not scale to the national level, the ideas behind Obamacare were hardly revolutionary. The detail may, for sure, be another matter. Still, in outline, Governor Romney could be proud of this sort of thing; Candidate Romney must disavow his own past.

So this, at least potentially, makes the race for the 2012 GOP nomination even more open and, hence, increases its entertainment potential. Romney isn't done yet but since his populism is transparently phoney it's a problem for him that he's now going to find it difficult to return to his can-do, technocratic roots.

The legislative process may have been, to put it mildly, untidy but the President and the Congressional leadership had a mandate to produce these reforms. Complaining that they've done what they said they would do and howling that it's not fair and a big Democrat took the ball and ran away is neither dignified nor persuasive.

Maybe the Mormonism would have made it difficult for Mitt anyway; the health care thing makes it all the harder for him to win the nomination. In that sense he's the biggest (political) loser today; in that sense too you may say that Obamacare is a price worth paying if it ends Romney's hopes of reaching the White House...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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