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Thursday, March 25, 2010  

All About Mitt

The couldn't-have-invented-it-if-you'd-tried story of Mitt Romney's undoing reminds me of a great Whetstone moment, back from the halcyon days of the 2008 GOP convention:

Mitt Romney: words cannot express how much I'll miss him after November. He's camp for political junkies, this incredibly earnest, pretty, expensive figure who looks perfect on paper and at first glance, but who observation quickly reveals to be just busted. He's like the Legends of the Fall of politicians.

I hesitate to add an analogy, but here goes: Mitt is like a blackjack player who got the idea that he ought to double down on a pair of sixes instead of splitting. Back in 2007, he had the potential to be the business-oriented, foreign-policy-realist, domestic-policy dealmaker that could have had a chance--however small--of prevailing in an electorate desperate to get past Bush. Instead we got "double Gitmo" and all manner of hard-right theatrics that managed to convince no one except people who hated John McCain even more.

Flash forward to 2010. A new health care law strikingly similar to one signed by Governor Romney in Massachusetts is driving Republicans wild with rage. Romney is holding a pair of sixes politically: on one hand, he can put a little distance between his own policy and the national version; on the other hand he can claim some familiarity with the new framework which will not, momentary fantasies notwithstanding, be repealed. This is not a great hand, as any blackjack player can tell you, but the way to play it is to increase your bet and diversify your chances. What Romney chose to do is to mentally lop off a point and pretend that he held an eleven and then double his bet: his bill was radically different, the new one is an impeachable offense, etc. It will not work.

This actually really bothers me, because while I find Mitt Romney to be trapped somewhere in a valley between repellent and comical, he had the potential to serve a patriotically useful and (who knows) even politically advantageous role in the development of the health care reform. As more policy-minded conservatives have been trying to point out, the future lies not in repealing the law but in leaning on the tiller of its implementation. For instance, the oft-repeated GOP plan of allowing the sale of insurance plans across state lines could re-emerge as a plan to make the insurance exchanges national rather than state-level. Or they could try to make the funding mechanism more regressive. Or they could expand and/or hurry up the high-value plan excise tax. Or they could try to pare back the regulated minimum for exchange plans. I could even imagine myself getting behind three out of those four. What Republicans need is a figure who can, after a decent interval, walk them through the stages of grief associated with the biggest policy defeat in my lifetime before moving them forward. There was no one else to do this but Mitt Romney. He could even have exaggerated his own plan's differences with the national version so as to plausibly oppose it while making the case that he, alone of Republican candidates, has the background to make the law work in a more efficient and market-friendly way.

Instead he seems to have decided to throw his lot in with the paranoiacs and hysterics who have blasted this law far beyond anything warranted by its Romneyesque provisions. And while it's highly unlikely that any repeal could happen, it's much more plausible that a still-deranged Republican majority in either or both houses could muck around with the implementation in negative-sum ways out of spite. This would be terrible, since the legislation is a one-way door. No one will ever vote to kick kids (or when it comes to pass, adults) with pre-existing conditions off of insurance rolls--though Mitt Romney might say he will if he thinks there's a percentage in it.

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posted by Benjamin Dueholm | 12:21 AM
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