Tomorrow Mitt Romney ventures straight into the lion's den -- Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of Jonathan Cohn, where he will deliver a health care speech attempting to explain the unexplainable. Just as Luke Skywalker was bound to seek out and confront Darth Vader, Romney must confront Cohn. If Romney winds up bloodied, one hand sliced off and clinging to a weathervane with the other, he'll have done better than I expect.
Romney's "Address To Jonathan Cohn And Fellow Ann Arborites"* will no doubt emphasize his federalist position. At the state level, the individual mandate is a humane, cost-effective tool for rationalizing the health care market. At the federal level, it is the greatest threat to freedom in American history. That is Romney's stance.
Unfortunately, some evidence is emerging that this was not Romney's stance before. Bluemassgroup has dug up this 1994 article in TNR, in which Romney told our John Judis that he would support a national health care plan that included an individual mandate:
The question about Romney is where he would stand in Congress's internecine battles. Would he side with Republicans such as John Chafee who have tried to develop constructive alternatives to Democratic legislation or with Republicans such as Phil Gramm and Newt Gingrich who have been willing to paralyze Congress for the sake of embarrassing the Clinton administration? Romney has indicated that he would side with the moderate wing. He endorsed the crime bill and refused to back Gingrich's jejune "Contract with America." He told me he would have backed Chafee's health care bill. "I'm willing to vote for things that I am not wild with," he said.
Romney's spokesman tells National Review, “Governor Romney has made it very clear over the last many years, including during the 2008 presidential cycle, that he opposes a federally imposed individual mandate.” Which is to say, Romney abandoned that view even before 2008. However, Greg Sargent points to a 2007 Meet the Press interview in which Romney said that he would like to see an individual mandate spread to every state:
ROMNEY: I’m a federalist. I don’t believe in applying what works in one state to all states if different states have different circumstances...Now, I happen to like what we did. I think it’s a good model for other states. Maybe not every state but most, and so what I’d do at the federal level is give every state the same kind of flexibility we got from the federal government as well as some carrots and sticks to actually get all their citizens insured. And I think a lot of states will choose what we did. I wouldn’t tell them they have to do our plan...
MR. RUSSERT: So if a state chose a mandate, it wouldn’t bother you?
MR. ROMNEY: I’d think it’s a terrific idea. I think you’re going to find when it’s all said and done, after all these states that are the laboratories of democracy, get their chance to try their own plans, but those who follow the path that we pursued will find it’s the best path, and we’ll end up with a nation that’s taken a mandate approach.
In conclusion: If we lived in a country where every citizen was required by the national government to obtain health insurance, it would be tyranny. But if we lived in a country where every citizen was required by their state government to obtain health insurance, it would be ideal. Anybody think this is going to fly?
*This may not be the official name of the event