My argument that mainstream Democratic politicians hold many of the same policy positions as mainstream Republican politicians from the early 1990s somewhat underplays the fact that those Republicans didn’t change their opinions in 1995, or 2002. They changed them in 2009. For instance, here’s conservative hero Jim DeMint endorsing Mitt Romney for president in 2008. Why did he endorse Romney in 2008? His individual mandate-reliant health-care plan, of course.
“There’s no one in the race like Mitt Romney who’s proved in business and in his volunteer work and as governor of Massachusetts that he can solve a problem,” DeMint said. “Not by creating more government but by making freedom work for everyone. He’s done it with health care.” Brian Beutler has much more, including DeMint telling Fox News that Romney’s health-care plan is “something that I think we should do for the whole country” and the Weekly Standard reporting that “DeMint especially praises Romney’s original health-care plan.”
It’s not just DeMint, of course. In 2007, Newt Gingrich said, “If you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur ... it’s something I would strongly support.” And poor Tim Pawlenty. Did you see what happened at last night’s GOP debate?
The moderator announced that everyone should turn their attention to an old radio ad for an environmental group in which Mr. Pawlenty heartily endorses a cap-and-trade policy — practically apostasy in his party.
“Do we have to?” Mr. Pawlenty quipped awkwardly. His voice soon echoed through the auditorium saying “cap greenhouse gas pollution now!”
As I wrote in the original piece, nothing between 2007 and 2011 transformed an individual mandate from “making freedom work for everyone” into a “stunning assault on liberty.” There was no reason for cap-and-trade to go from a policy George H.W. Bush had proposed as an alternative to “the command and control approaches of the past” and that John McCain and Sarah Palin had championed in their campaign into cap-and-tax.
Nothing, that is, except for the election of Barack Obama, and the polarization around the policies he and the Democrats supported. And that’s politics, I guess. But too often, we pretend that it’s policy — that there’s something tucked inside the mechanics of the individual mandate that make it a policy only Democrats could support, or that cap-and-trade was invented by Al Gore and Barbara Streisand and is clearly some socialist invention from the planet Marx.
It’s important that people realize how fake many of the policy arguments that go on in this town really are, and that the media is there to call out politicians who continually move the goalposts. Because if there are no referees on the field, anything can be made to sound like a policy argument, and it’s very hard for voters to tell when the players are being straight with them.