Sometimes I find myself feeling sorry for Mitt Romney. No, seriously.
In another time and place, he might have been respected as an effective technocrat – a smart guy valued (although probably not loved) for his ability to get things done. In fact, that’s kind of how it worked when he was governor of Massachusetts, a decade ago.
But now it’s 2015 in America, and Romney’s party doesn’t want people who get things done. On the contrary, it actively hates government programs that improve American lives, especially if they help Those People. And this means that Romney can’t celebrate his signature achievement in public life, the Massachusetts health reform that served as a template for Obamacare.
This has to hurt. Indeed, a few days ago Romney couldn’t help himself: He boasted to The Boston Globe that “Without Romneycare, we wouldn’t have had Obamacare” and that as a result “a lot of people wouldn’t have health insurance.” And it’s true!
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But such truths aren’t welcome in the GOP. Ben Carson, who is leading the latest polls of Iowa Republicans, has declared that Obamacare is the worst thing to happen to America since slavery; 81 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers say that this statement makes him more attractive as a candidate.
Not surprisingly, then, Romney quickly tried to walk his comments back, claiming that Obamacare is very different from Romneycare, which it isn’t, and that it has failed.
But you know, it hasn’t. On the contrary, the Affordable Care Act has been a remarkable success, especially considering the scorched-earth opposition it has faced.
First of all, a lot of people – around 16 million, the administration estimates, a picture confirmed by independent sources – do indeed have health insurance who otherwise wouldn’t. Millions more would be insured if Republican-controlled states weren’t refusing to expand Medicaid (even though the federal government would pay the costs) and generally trying to obstruct the program.
How good is the insurance thus obtained? Not perfect: Despite subsidies, policies are still hard for some to afford, and deductibles and copays can be onerous. But most people enrolled under Obamacare report high satisfaction with their coverage, which is hugely better than simply not being uninsured. And may I inject a personal note? If truth be told, I live in a pretty rarefied, upper-middle-class-and-above milieu – yet even so I know several people for whom the Affordable Care Act has been more or less literally a lifesaver. This is, as Joe Biden didn’t quite say, a really big deal.
Oh, and have you noticed how those ads featuring people supposedly hurt by Obamacare have disappeared? That’s because none of their stories held up.
What’s more, the big Biden deal has come in below budget. Insurance premiums in Obamacare’s first two years were well below predictions. It looks as if there will be a partial rebound in 2016, but it’s still cheaper than expected. And overall, health care spending has slowed dramatically.
Meanwhile, none of the bad things that were supposed to happen have. Employment growth since the “job-killing” law went into effect has been faster than at any time since the 1990s. Employers have not, in fact, eliminated full-time jobs to avoid the act’s provisions. And the budget deficit keeps falling.
In short, President Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, who pushed the Affordable Care Act through despite total opposition from the GOP, have a lot to be proud of. And so does Romney, who helped lay the foundation. Instead, however, he’s trashing the best thing he’s ever done.
You have to wonder: Does Romney really think that his party would look more favorably on Obamacare if it worked even better than it has, if it cost no money at all? If so, he’s delusional. After all, the great majority of Republican-controlled states have turned down free money, refusing to let the federal government expand Medicaid (and in so doing pump money into their economies.)
The point is that from the point of view of the Republican base, covering the uninsured, or helping the unlucky in general, isn’t a feature, it’s a bug. It’s not about how much it costs in taxpayer funds or economic impact: the base is actually willing to lose money in order to perpetuate suffering.
And a movement with those values has no use for technocrats. Ask Ben Bernanke, who has given up on a party in thrall to the “know-nothingism of the far right.”
Maybe Romney still imagines that a desperate party will call on him to save it from Donald Trump. Or maybe he just can’t bring himself to admit that he picked the wrong group of people to hang out with. Either way, one hopes for his sake that he eventually gives up his illusions.
Trust me, Mitt: It will be a liberating experience.