Mitt’s big omission

    By some traditional measures (money, looks, experience), Mitt Romney fits the bill as a ’12 Republican front-runner. But after I heard his Friday speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, I couldn’t help but entertain the possibility that he’s merely Dead Man Walking.Granted, Romney dished out the requisite red meat. He assailed the Obama regime by twice making fun of the word organic (Michelle’s healthy food garden is apparently a bad thing); by using the word Chicago as a pejorative; and by suggesting that the president cares little about the jobless. (“Fight for every job!” Romney declared, morphing into a working-class hero. That guise is truly a howler. During the ’90s, Romney was CEO of a private equity firm, Bain Capital, that forced newly-purchased companies to close factories and kill thousands of jobs.)Anyway, what Romney said in his speech was far less significant than what he conspicuously omitted. In a transcript that runs nearly four pages, he somehow failed to utter so much as a single syllable about his signature achievement as chief executive of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: A health care reform law that requires all Bay State citizens to purchase insurance.Gee. I wonder why that little factoid seemed to slip his mind.Lots of grassroots Republicans are well aware that Romney is a chameleon who has been laboring since 2007 to escape his former self (presumably his real self, the pragmatic business-oriented self that governed a blue state), and replace it with a  pandering pitchfork-populist self (presumably a self that can successfully woo the primary season conservatives). Which explains why he spent so much time in his Friday speech dispensing boilerplate (bashing “Europe,” ridiculing high-speed rail, and attacking the liberals who supposedly “took over health care”).But I doubt that Romney fooled his 3000 ballroom listeners. Saying squat about his own health reform law won’t make the issue go away – especially since the Republican right already knows that that “Obamacare” and “Romneycare” share many fundamental traits. Nearly one year ago, a Sunday news show host even pointed this out to Romney: “Let’s look at the plan that you signed into law in Massachusetts in 2006. You have an individual mandate. You have an employer mandate. You have subsidies for some of the uninsured. You set minimum insurance coverage standards.”So said Chris Wallace, on Fox News Sunday.Romney won’t last a month in the ’12 primaries unless he can figure out how to talk about this issue in front of conservative voters. Once the debate season begins, his rivals will make it clear that he has some explaining to do. For instance, somebody will surely resurrect then-Gov. Romney’s April 8, 2006 interview on NPR, where he insisted that the Massachusetts reforms would work only if everyone bought coverage; citizens who could afford it would be required to buy it, he said, “otherwise, you’re just passing your expenses on to someone else.” Defying the law and refusing to buy insurance, he warned, is “not Republican, that’s not Democratic, that’s not libertarian. That’s just wrong.”It’s understandable why Romney cleansed his governing resume during his CPAC speech, and feigned amnesia about the key achievement on his policy record. After all, he came to kiss up to the base, not flash his Achilles heel. Generally speaking, a politician does not advance by playing defense.But Romney has a potentially unresolvable problem. If he was to tout his health care law (if only to explain and defend it, and somehow contrast it with Obama’s law), he would remind the conservative base that he isn’t one of them. Yet if he persists in hiding it, the conservative base may well reach the same conclusion. Or maybe it already has; as Senator Lindsey Graham tellingly remarked yesterday on CNN, “I’m looking for the most conservative person who’s electable, and that person is yet to emerge.” It speaks volumes about the unusually fluid Republican field that the supposed front-runner is a guy who finished second in the CPAC straw poll to the unelectable Ron Paul…for the second straight year. Romney got less buzz at this convention than the Sarah Palin impersonator who worked the outer room. Thanks in part to his health care baggage, he may well be the 2012 equivalent of the 1947 Spruce Goose, the much-ballyhooed heavy transport aircraft, built by Howard Hughes, that managed one test flight before returning forever to terra firma.——-As I wrote here on Friday, while referencing a Republican focus group in Iowa, it’s bad enough that so many citizens are willfully ignorant about certain fundamental facts (Obama is not a Muslim, despite what some still persist in saying). But what’s even worse is that their political leaders willfully aid and abet the ignorance.  On Meet the Press yesterday, David Gregory aired a Fox News clip from that Iowa focus group. Then he pitched a question to his guest, House Speaker John Boehner: “Do you not think it’s your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?”Boehner replied, “David, it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people.” Gregory, moments later: “But that kind of ignorance – over whether (Obama) is a Muslim – doesn’t concern you?”Boehner: “Listen, the American people have the right to think what they want to think. I can’t — it’s not my job to tell them.”Gregory again, moments later: “You had a member of Congress, you had a new Tea Party freshman, who was out just yesterday speaking to conservatives (at CPAC) and he said, ‘I’m fortunate enough to be an American citizen by birth, and I do have a birth certificate to prove it.’ That was Raul Labrador, a new congressman from Idaho. Is that an appropriate way for your members to speak?”Boehner: “The gentleman was trying to be funny, I would imagine, but remember something – it really is not our job to tell the American people what to believe and what to think.”The flaw in Boehner’s defense is obvious. He and his fellow leaders are constantly trying to tell the American people what to believe and what to think. That’s what they do. That’s what the repetitive sloganeering (Obama’s “job-killing” policies, “government takeover of health care,” “death panels”) is all about. That’s how both parties endeavor to win elections – by shaping what people think.What Boehner essentially said yesterday, however, is that he has no interest in taking the high road and telling the clueless members of the conservative moment that regardless of how they may feel about Obama’s policies, they should think only the best about Obama’s pedigree. Boehner could say, in diplomatic language, that ignorance has no place in our politics. But that would require a scintilla of courage. It’s so much easier to indulge the ignorance and reap the harvest.——-Speaking of Mitt Romney, he somehow failed to mention another important topic during his speech: Egypt. He brought up Obama’s alleged failings in Iran, North Korea, Russia, Poland…but said nary a word about the most historic foreign crisis yet to erupt on Obama’s watch. Why the omission? Because, clearly, Romney couldn’t think of anything bad to say about Obama’s performance. In fact, most Republicans have been similarly muted – for reasons that I explained in my Sunday newspaper column.——-Yet again, the four sweetest words in the English language are: “Pitchers and catchers report.”Perhaps Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby said it best, way back in the last century: “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.