Perhaps I’m an optimist. Perhaps I’m optimistically cynical. Cynically optimistic? But isn’t that sort of thing required in politics?
I join Jonah Goldberg and others who are miffed at Mitt Romney’s insistence on calling Obamacare a “penalty” rather than a “tax,” thus seeming to surrender the political win from John Roberts’ decision in the Obamacare case last Thursday.
If Obamacare is a tax, which so many, including George Stephanopolous(!), insisted it was, then former Constitutional Law professor Barack Obama and his supporters were wrong and lied through their teeth in denying this fact.
They lied, of course, because if they admitted that it were a tax it would not have been able to pass into law, reconciliation or no. And now that it *is* a tax, and must be treated as one in statute, Romney and all Republicans (heck, even non-crazy Democrats) can run on an anti-tax-because-anti-Obamacare platform, and use their opponent’s support of Obamacare as a very potent weapon against them.
So what’s up? Why would Romney insist that it is a “penalty” and not a “tax.” I think there are a few reasons, and while I’m not sure I accept the political wisdom in them I really hope they pan out.
First, Romney doesn’t want his campaign efforts to be on Obamacare. He wants to stay on the economy and jobs message. True, Obamacare hurts, and will continue to hurt, jobs and the economy, but jobs and the economy can be talked about without talking at length about Obamacare. “We’re going to repeal this bad law” is about all you need to say. And he doesn’t need to talk about it as a tax to do that.
Romney does not want to talk about Obamacare because it is too close to Romneycare in Massachusetts. He insists they are different, and they are—for one, unlike the federal government, states really do have the policing and regulatory power to have universal healthcare if their constitution does not proscribe it. The federal government, as we have seen, cannot compel such commercial activity through criminal sanction (leaving aside the coercion of taxation for sake of argument). But he does not want to talk about it himself unless he has to, as he almost definitely will have to in the debates. We shall see what he says then.
Also, Romney is sticking to the original talking point and being *more* conservative on this than the SCOTUS was. He agrees with the four conservative dissenters that whatever you call the thing it is bad policy and unconstitutional and should be tossed because of that. In that way he is not yielding anything on Obamacare—not even that it has been called constitutional under the power to tax—and retains his commitment to removing it, branch and root, as soon as he can once President.
And lastly, Super PACs. Romney doesn’t need to do the “Swiftboating” of Barack Obama. He doesn’t need to talk up every talking point and every reason to oppose Obama and support Romney. He doesn’t need to because the Super PACs that can raise unlimited amounts of money and spend it as they see fit, without any coordination with any candidate’s campaign. They will be free to promote “Obama ate dog,” “Obama’s grandpa was a polygamist, too,” “Obama’s autobiography is full of memories that simply aren’t true,” and “Obamacare is the largest tax increase in American history, and it sits squarely on the middle class and those who create jobs.”
And, so far at least, Romney has done nothing to squelch the speech of those who support him. He has not yet pulled a John McCain and put the kibosh on the rest of us telling the uncomfortable, sometimes unflattering truths about Barack Obama that he himself is unwilling or unable politically to proclaim.
So it’s not that Romney is out there saying everything that really needs to be said: he’s saying what *he* needs to say, and nothing more, and he’s trusting (with good reason, I think) that things like “Obama ate dog,” the polygamist commune thing, and the use of “the Obamacare tax” will be handled by Super PACs without his suggestion and direction.
The coordination doesn’t have to exist. Everyone knows Obama’s political liabilities—his entire record–and various parties will exploit various components of it. Romney will focus on jobs and the economy.
With the TEA party groups, the increasing ability of alternative and social media to drive the message (heck, a post I put here on CatholicVote.org about my employer, Franciscan University, dropping student health insurance coverage was all over the news cycle for about three days) does anyone really believe independent Super PACs won’t be saying loudly, “Obama and his enablers in Congress passed the largest tax increase in American history, a tax that only hits the middle class, and they did it right in the middle of a major recession”?
That message will get out. Romney won’t have to say it.
Or maybe I’m just being an optimist.