tax flip-flop

Mitt Romney spent last week debating himself while President Obama took the offensive on healthcare. That’s the state of the race in the wake of the Supreme Court’s bold decision to uphold the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — and it favors the newly aggressive Obama. 

Romney’s predicament is obvious — how do you attack a healthcare law concocted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which you pioneered as governor, after it was approved by the Supreme Court’s foremost corporatist? 

The GOP’s conservative base was enraged by the decision, and began screaming for Romney to take a forceful approach. A headline proclaimed, “Conservatives to Mitt: Quit now if you won’t fight Obamatax.” Yet Romney and his campaign quietly dithered. Other than a short post-verdict statement, Romney was largely silent on healthcare. 

Then top Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom went on TV to declare that the campaign disagreed with the court that the individual mandate was a tax — it was a penalty! After all, if Obama raised taxes with Obama-Care, so did Romney in Massachusetts with RomneyCare. They’re essentially the same law. 

But Romney is congenitally incapable of staking a position and sticking to it. So suddenly, and with no explanation, Romney decided that the individual mandate was now a tax. 

How did he explain his flip-flop? He didn’t, which enraged his allies on the Wall Street Journal editorial board, who fumed, “[Romney’s] campaign looks confused in addition to being politically dumb.” And if he thought caving to the right’s bleating about the “Obamatax” would buy him a reprieve from his base, he was wrong. “Remember Michael Dukakis (1988) and John KerryJohn Forbes KerryShould President Trump, like President Obama, forsake human rights in pursuit of the deal with a tyrant? GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system Democrats conflicted over how hard to hit Trump on Iran MORE (2004)?” asked the National Review’s Bill Kristol. “It’s possible to lose a winnable presidential election to a vulnerable incumbent in the White House (or in the case of 1988, a sitting vice president). So, speaking of losing candidates from Massachusetts: Is it too much to ask Mitt Romney to get off autopilot and actually think about the race he’s running?”

Meanwhile, Obama has shed his defensiveness on healthcare. “We will not go back to the days when insurance companies could discriminate against people just because they were sick. We’re not going to tell 
6 million young people who are now on their parents’ health insurance plans that suddenly they don’t have health insurance. We’re not going to allow Medicare to be turned into a voucher system,” the president said. “Now is the time to move forward and make sure that every American has affordable health insurance and that insurance companies are treating them fairly.”

It’s a simple argument: Obama wants everyone to have access to healthcare, and he wants insurance companies to treat those with coverage fairly. So not only is everyone covered, but it is good coverage. Who could be against that? Well, the same people who, at a Republican presidential debate discussing the plight of the uninsured, cheered, “Let him die.”

On one side, you have Obama and Democrats (finally!) talking about the ways Americans benefit from the new law. On the other side you have Romney debating himself silly over whether the individual mandate he himself supported is a tax or a penalty … while promising to nominate justices in the mold of John Roberts.

If conservatives are angry, they have no one to blame but themselves. After all, there were other choices in their primary.

Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (