E.J. Dionne’s self-refuting shot at Mitt Romney

In a previous post, I commented on a piece in which E.J. Dionne argues that contemporary conservatism has abandoned the most attractive features of the traditional conservative movement. I tried to show that Dionne’s thesis is based on a gross distortion of the conservative tradition in America and, indeed, of the conservative scholar on whose work Dionne mainly relies.

Before taking aim at conservatism, Dionne took a shot at Mitt Romney. Here is his opening paragraph:

To secure his standing as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney has disowned every sliver of moderation in his record. He’s moved to the right on tax cuts and twisted himself into a pretzel over the health-care plan he championed in Massachusetts — because conservatives are no longer allowed to acknowledge that government can improve citizens’ lives.

Dionne’s second sentence refutes his first. If Romney had “disowned every sliver of moderation in his record” he would not have “twisted himself into a pretzel” over Romneycare – his most notorious piece of moderation. Instead, he would simply have disowned it. And through his continued support of Romneycare, the former governor plainly acknowledged that, in his opinion, government can improve citizens’ lives.

But what of Dionne’s claim that Romney has twisted himself into a pretzel? This, I gather, is an article of faith among Dionne’s regular readers, for he doesn’t expand on the assertion. Presumably, Dionne believes that one cannot, with intellectual honestly, consider the Massachusetts plan (which Romney refused to disown) a good idea without also subscribing to Obamacare.

Dionne is wrong again. For one thing, there are strong, and quite possibly winning, arguments that Obamacare is unconstitutional. The arguments that have been advanced to support this proposition do not apply to a state law such as Romneycare.

The Constitution matters to conservatives.

Moreover, Romney believes that the federal government cannot afford Obamacare. For a number of reasons, Massachusetts arguably could afford Romneycare. It had a relatively low number of uninsured citizens. It didn’t face the kind of debt crisis that now confronts the U.S. In fact, Massachusetts had a balanced budget at the time. And Massachusetts was able to obtain a waiver from the federal government that allowed it to use $583 million in federal money to help kick-start its universal health insurance program. Taxes were not increased and funds were not “borrowed” to pay for Romneycare. This is not true of Obamacare.

Fiscal responsibility matters to conservatives.

Finally, Romneycare, as enacted under Romney, entailed far less government regulation and control of health care than Obamacare does. The Obamacare bill is more than 2,000 pages long. The bill Romney signed into law is 70 pages. In Massachusetts, insurance companies were not, effectively, placed under government control, nor did Massachusetts become the default health care provider in that state.

Excessive government regulation matters to conservatives.

Dionne apparently believes that Obamacare and Romneycare both were good ideas. I believe that Obamacare is a bad idea and that the same is probably true of Romneycare.

But there are important differences between the two programs, such that one can support the Massachusetts program, oppose the federal one, and remain untwisted.

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