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Gene Lyons: Which Romney will we get today?

Posted: October 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: October 18, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

To a skeptic, the most remarkable aspect of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has been how so flexible a politician can represent so dogmatic a party. Contemporary Republicanism is ideological to its core. Everybody who watched the GOP primary debates between Mitt and the Seven Dwarves (or were there nine? I forget) understands that there’s a black-and-white party line on almost every imaginable topic from tax policy to global warming.

Romney, on the other hand, appears to have no firm convictions at all. So many and so various are the GOP candidate’s self-contradictions and reinventions that the proverbial “low information” citizens who appear to constitute much of the swing vote are pretty much free to imagine any Mitt Romney that strikes their fancy.

Maybe it’s unpatriotic to say so, but an awful lot of people who manage their personal affairs competently enough simply refuse to understand the most elementary facts when they’re part of a political argument.

CBS News’ Scott Pelley recently asked Romney a simple question on 60 Minutes: “Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the 50 million Americans who don’t have it today?”

“Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance,” Romney allowed. “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”

Back in 2006, the politician Bill Clinton calls “Moderate Mitt” recognized the problem. He wrote a Wall Street Journal column objecting to the way deadbeats game the system.

“By law, emergency care cannot be withheld,” he wrote. “Why pay for something you can get free? Of course, while it may be free for them, everyone else ends up paying the bill, either in higher insurance premiums or taxes.”

Ah, but then came “Obamacare,” basically Romneycare with a less expensive per capita price tag. Yesterday’s conservative solution turned into today’s Bolshevism. Severely Conservative Mitt played along.

So what would Romney do if elected?

Who knows? To paraphrase the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus: You can never encounter the same Mitt Romney twice. Whatever he says today, he’ll say something different tomorrow.

Here’s the question President Obama should be asking: Would you buy a used health insurance policy from this man?

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.”

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