In the movie business there are those reviews that are so glowing, so effusive that the studio takes the ad, blows it up to poster-size and uses it as part of its marketing plan. In the same way, today’s scathing indictment of Mitt Romney by the Wall Street Journal editorial board is so devastating that you can expect all or some of it to show up in his opponents' ads.
And the timing couldn’t be worse. Romney’s out scrounging for cash on Wall Street and here the in-house paper for the financial industry rips him to shreds.
The Journal’s editorial board lays out the case against the former Massachusetts governor on the day of his big speech on health care:
Mr. Romney applied the approach that succeeded when he was a Bain & Company business consultant: He convened an expert task force. His health-care commission immersed itself in data, crunched the numbers and came up with a technocratic solution.
The conceit was that a universal reform would cover everyone and all but pay for itself by reorganizing the state’s health-care finances. Since 1985, Massachusetts footed most of the bill when the uninsured showed up for treatment through a $800 million fund for uncompensated care. That money, along with extra federal Medicaid dollars under a special waiver, would subsidize lower- and middle-income residents
Translation: he’s not a conservative, he’s a technocrat without proper skepticism of big government.
Moreover, the technocrat’s scheme didn’t work:
The only good news we can find is that the uninsured rate has dropped to 2% today from 6% in 2006. Yet four out of five of the newly insured receive low- or no-cost coverage from the government. The subsidies will cost at least $830 million in 2011 and are growing, conservatively measured, at 5.1% a year. Total state health-care spending as a share of the budget has grown from about 16% in the 1980s to 30% in 2006 to 40% today. The national state average is about 25%.
The safety-net fund that was supposed to be unwound, well, wasn’t. Uncompensated hospital care rose 5% from 2008 to 2009, and 15% from 2009 to 2010, hitting $475 million (though the state only paid out $405 million). “Avoidable” use of emergency rooms—that is, for routine care like a sore throat—increased 9% between 2004 and 2008. Meanwhile, unsubsidized insurance premiums for individuals and small businesses have climbed to among the highest in the nation.
Translation: Romney’s selling competence, but his major “achievement” was a flop.
And finally, Romney refuses to accept responsibility, for to do so would reveal his lack of conservative instincts:
The Romney camp blames all this on a failure of execution, not of design. But by this cause-and-effect standard, Mr. Romney could push someone out of an airplane and blame the ground for killing him. Once government takes on the direct or implicit liability of paying for health care for everyone, the only way to afford it is through raw political control of all medical decisions.
Mr. Romney’s refusal to appreciate this, then and now, reveals a troubling failure of political understanding and principle. The raucous national debate over health care isn’t about this or that technocratic detail, but about basic differences over the role of government. In the current debate over Medicare, Paul Ryan wants to reduce costs by encouraging private competition while Mr. Obama wants the cost-cutting done by a body of unelected experts like the one emerging in Massachusetts.
These are not problems that will be solved by a speech. Romney’s overly solicitous approach to conservative voters (What would you like me to be?) is annoying. But insincerity isn’t a disqualifier in Republican (or Democratic) politics.
What is disqualifying, however, is a lack of fidelity to underlying conservative principles. Primary voters are not intolerant (and should not be, as Pete Wehner argues) of certain ideological deviation from conservative dogma. (Sen. John McCain got the nomination despite a “mavericky”record.) But there is an essential quality that a winning candidate must have to win the GOP presidential nomination: a belief in limited government and personal liberty. The Journal’s editorial board contends, “Mr. Romney’s highest principle seems to be faith in his own expertise.” If voters agree, Romney’s candidacy is doomed — no matter how much money he wrangles from businessmen who somehow missed or didn’t fully grasp the Journal’s critique.