This is upsetting to say the least. The moment that the ruling came down last Thursday the hounds of hell were released by conservatives on twitter and in the blogosphere and videos galore of Obama saying the mandate was not a tax contrasted with news reports that the Supreme Court of the United States disagreed. In fact, not just disagreed but indicated that it was required for it to be a tax in order to pass the constitutional test.
Many articles were written with conservatives rubbing their hands together in gleeful anticipation of the next several months of Barack Obama trying to explain how he didn't break his promise on taxes while simultaneously claiming that the Supreme Court found his bill constitutional. It seemed obvious that these two things were in direct contradiction with one another given the decision, and assaulting the Democrats on this point was going to be easy.
Then comes word today that there are no such plans from the Romney camp.
I reached out to the Romney camp with a very simple subject line: "Dude,come on." I got this response:
"The Supreme Court left President Obama with two choices: the federal individual mandate in Obamacare is either a constitutional tax or an unconstitutional penalty. Governor Romney thinks it is an unconstitutional penalty. What is President Obama’s position: is his federal mandate unconstitutional or is it a tax?"
I understand how this seems like a good tactic. Romney wants to hold on to the position that it was unconstitutional in the first place and that he agrees, it's not a tax. It's simply unconstitutional and evidently Obama concurs.
However, I've got to believe that part of this is to avoid having to call his own healthcare bill, Romneycare, a tax. Perhaps they believe that they can create a stalemate where neither side is willing to go hard on the subject for fear that it will be reversed on themselves. It's not bad but I do see some problems.
First, conservatives aren't going to stop saying it's a tax between now and election day. Many of us have already committed our minds to this idea and are still too excited to be able to show that Obama raised taxes on the middle class in spite of his string of promises that he would not. In fact, some of us already invested time and effort into this perspective.
If their hope had been to keep that argument off the radar, it will fail.
Second, this plays right into something I warned about before Romney was nominated. My concern had been that Romney would be a bit hamstringed when it came to assaulting Obamacare. As I noted then:
And [the Romney campaign's tactics are] all right out of the Obama playbook and talking points. Their plan actually seems to be to take the fight to the capital by saying:
- Public health insurance didn’t crowd out employer sponsored insurance in Massachusetts
- That any mandate, be it for public schools or for car insurance, is evidence that a mandate is perfectly acceptable even when it’s a mandate related to your right to exist.
- That costs are being contained and kept down as a result of the bill and that the uninsured are now insured and the free rides are over.
- That the mandate is only a technicality because anyone can choose not to be a part of it by simply paying a fee every year.
- That the people of Massachusetts wanted healthcare reform and that a duly elected legislature passed the bill and thus it’s perfectly acceptable and reasonable.
If these defenses sound familiar it’s because they are virtually identical to the defenses we heard for a year and a half leading up to the passage of Obamacare.
And this is only the low hanging fruit. Obama could easily run ads defending the tenants of Obamacare at this point and use the likes of Ann Coulter and Pam Bondi (who is actually suing the Fed over Obamacare) to make the case for them that it’s a great bill.
And now Romney receives his first test on this. Obama is declared a tax, and the Romney camp seems to be cowering away.
I'm willing to give them some time on this one before I give up on their messaging. I'd like to see Obama trapped by their tactic or perhaps see a video that can adequately present the issue in a way that the masses can accept.
Until then I can't put this in a win category. After Thursday's SCOTUS decision, many of us took solace in the fact that Obama would have to defend his tax record. Despite the positive spin that the Romney camp is putting out, they seem to have destroyed the only glimmer of optimism we were able to pull out of that judicial tragedy.