Bobo haz a big happy! Bobo is excited! Bobo says “Moderate Mitt Returns!” He babbles that the Republican presidential candidate has finally emerged from the fog of his caricatures. Welcome to the audacity of pragmatism. Bobo is a dolt. Prof. Krugman is not taken in. In “Romney’s Sick Joke” he points out that Mitt Romney’s claim that pre-existing conditions are covered under his health plan was his biggest of many misleading statements in Wednesday’s debate. Here’s Bobo:
A sour fog settled over the Republican Party during the primary season. Several plausible candidates decided not to run for president, and the whole conversation ended up tainted by various political circus acts.
The G.O.P. did its best to appear unattractive. It had trouble talking the language of compassion. It seemed to regard reasonable political compromise as an act of dishonor. It offered little for struggling Americans except that government would leave them alone.
The Obama campaign took advantage. President Obama could have run against Mitt Romney by calling him a flip-flopper. Instead, the president tapped into the G.O.P. gestalt and accused him of being a soulless ideologue or the tool of ideologues. Judging by how the president was prepared for Wednesday’s debate, Obama’s staff apparently believed that that charge was actually true.
But, on Wednesday night, Romney finally emerged from the fog. He broke with the stereotypes of his party and, at long last, began the process of offering a more authentic version of himself.
Far from being a lackey to the rich, Romney vowed that rich people will not see tax bills go down under a Romney administration. He attacked Obama for giving a “kiss to New York banks.” Instead, he focused relentlessly on job creation for the middle class, which, he noted, has seen incomes fall by $4,300 under this president while gas prices have doubled and health care costs have surged.
Far from being an individualistic, social Darwinist, Romney spoke comfortably about compassion and shared destinies: “We’re a nation that believes that we’re all children of the same God, and we care for those that have difficulties, those that are elderly and have problems and challenges, those that are disabled.”
Far from wanting to eviscerate government and railing about government dependency, Romney talked about how to make government programs work better. “I’m not going to cut education funding,” he vowed. He praised government job-training efforts and said he wanted to consolidate them. He lamented that $90 billion has been shipped to energy corporations, which could have paid for two million teachers.
Far from being a pitchfork-wielding populist who wants to raze Washington, Romney said he would work with the people he finds there. “We have to work on a collaborative basis, not because we’re going to compromise our principle but because there is common ground.” He bragged that in his old job as governor, he met with Democrats every week. He boasted about his bipartisan health care bill. He praised the (semimythical) friendship between Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.
Far from being an unthinking deregulator, Romney declared, “Regulation is essential. … I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work.” Instead of championing unfettered capitalism, he said he wanted predictable and workable rules. He criticized housing regulations that can’t give a clear idea of what a qualified mortgage is. He criticized financial regulations that favor big banks over small ones.
Romney didn’t describe a comprehensive governing philosophy, but he gave us a hint of a strong center-right pragmatic approach. It starts with 1986-style tax reform and Wyden-Ryan Medicare reform and then offers a glimpse of experimental pragmatism on most everything else.
Yes, it’s true. Romney’s tax numbers don’t add up. Yes, there’s a lot of budgetary flimflam. No, Romney still doesn’t have an easy answer to wage stagnation (neither does Obama). But Romney’s debate performance signals the return of Governor Mitt. Democrats call it hypocrisy; I call it progress.
You could conceivably build a majority coalition around this framework, winning over more working-class women and some Hispanic voters. The crucial test will be whether Romney can develop, brand and sell this approach over the campaign’s final month.
Most important, Romney did something no other mainstream Republican has had the guts to do. Either out of conviction or political desperation, he broke with Tea Party orthodoxy and began to redefine the Republican identity. And, having taken this step, he’s broken the spell. Conservatives loved it! They loved that it was effective, and it was effective because Romney could more authentically be the man who (I think) he truly is.
Now it’s the Obama campaign that has problems to solve. Politically, the president will have to go back to portraying Romney as a flip-flopper instead of an ideologue. Substantively, Obama will have to kindle new passion. So far, he’s seemed driven by the negative passion of stopping Republican extremism. He’ll have to develop a positive passion for something he actually wants to do.
I gave Obama better reviews than most pundits did Wednesday night, but his closing statement was as bad as any I’ve ever heard. If he can’t come up with a two-minute argument for why he should be president again, the former Mr. Audacity might still lose to the former Mr. Right Winger.
Fingers crossed that Charles Pierce addresses this. Or maybe Moral Hazard will finally snap and bite Bobo. Here’s Prof. Krugman:
“No. 1,” declared Mitt Romney in Wednesday’s debate, “pre-existing conditions are covered under my plan.” No, they aren’t — as Mr. Romney’s own advisers have conceded in the past, and did again after the debate.
Was Mr. Romney lying? Well, either that or he was making what amounts to a sick joke. Either way, his attempt to deceive voters on this issue was the biggest of many misleading and/or dishonest claims he made over the course of that hour and a half. Yes, President Obama did a notably bad job of responding. But I’ll leave the theater criticism to others and talk instead about the issue that should be at the heart of this election.
So, about that sick joke: What Mr. Romney actually proposes is that Americans with pre-existing conditions who already have health coverage be allowed to keep that coverage even if they lose their job — as long as they keep paying the premiums. As it happens, this is already the law of the land. But it’s not what anyone in real life means by having a health plan that covers pre-existing conditions, because it applies only to those who manage to land a job with health insurance in the first place (and are able to maintain their payments despite losing that job). Did I mention that the number of jobs that come with health insurance has been steadily declining over the past decade?
What Mr. Romney did in the debate, in other words, was, at best, to play a word game with voters, pretending to offer something substantive for the uninsured while actually offering nothing. For all practical purposes, he simply lied about what his policy proposals would do.
How many Americans would be left out in the cold under Mr. Romney’s plan? One answer is 89 million. According to the nonpartisan Commonwealth Foundation, that’s the number of Americans who lack the “continuous coverage” that would make them eligible for health insurance under Mr. Romney’s empty promises. By the way, that’s more than a third of the U.S. population under 65 years old.
Another answer is 45 million, the estimated number of people who would have health insurance if Mr. Obama were re-elected, but would lose it if Mr. Romney were to win.
That estimate reflects two factors. First, Mr. Romney proposes repealing the Affordable Care Act, which means doing away with all the ways in which that law would help tens of millions of Americans who either have pre-existing conditions or can’t afford health insurance for other reasons. Second, Mr. Romney is proposing drastic cuts in Medicaid — basically to save money that he could use to cut taxes on the wealthy — which would deny essential health care to millions more Americans. (And, no, despite what he has said, you can’t get the care you need just by going to the emergency room.)
Wait, it gets worse. The true number of victims from Mr. Romney’s health proposals would be much larger than either of these numbers, for a couple of reasons.
One is that Medicaid doesn’t just provide health care to Americans too young for Medicare; it also pays for nursing care and other necessities for many older Americans.
Also, many Americans have health insurance but live under the continual threat of losing it. Obamacare would eliminate this threat, but Mr. Romney would bring it back and make it worse. Safety nets don’t just help people who actually fall, they make life more secure for everyone who might fall. But Mr. Romney would take that security away, not just on health care but across the board.
What about the claim made by a Romney adviser after the debate that states could step in to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions? That’s nonsense on many levels. For one thing, Mr. Romney wants to eliminate restrictions on interstate insurance sales, depriving states of regulatory power. Furthermore, if all you do is require that insurance companies cover everyone, healthy people will wait until they’re sick to sign up, leading to sky-high premiums. So you need to couple regulations on insurers with a requirement that everyone have insurance. And, to make that feasible, you have to offer insurance subsidies to lower-income Americans, which have to be paid for at a federal level.
And what you end up with is — precisely — the health reform President Obama signed into law.
One could wish that Mr. Obama had made this point effectively in the debate. He had every right to jump up and say, “There you go again”: Not only was Mr. Romney’s claim fundamentally dishonest, it has already been extensively debunked, and the Romney campaign itself has admitted that it’s false.
For whatever reason, the president didn’t do that, on health care or on anything else. But, as I said, never mind the theater criticism. The fact is that Mr. Romney tried to mislead the public, and he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it.