Monday, April 10, 2006

A breath of fresh air -- or the kiss of death?

The nascent presidential candidacy of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has gotten a lot more interesting in recent days. Here's a Republican governor, working with an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature, who just cleared passage for a law that will require statewide universal health care.
Imagine the political possibilities of that.
Candidate Romney will be able to tout himself as a pragmatic problem-solver who can work with the opposition - a potential character asset, at least with those independent swing voters who are generally fed up with the politicians in both parties who are dividers rather than uniters. Voters are fond of electing governors (four of our last five presidents had been governors), because executives often have to make pragmatic decisions for the greater good.
But the potential downside is with the conservative voters who matter greatly during the Republican primaries. They might view Romney's universal health care plan as a big-government boondoggle that could end up raising taxes. They may not like the fact that Hillary Clinton and John Kerry are already praising the plan (actually, conservative dismay is being heard already).
In truth, the Romney health plan, which he is expected to sign into law this week, does contain some conservative features. Take, for example, the credo of personal responsibility: Romney will require that everyone in Massachusetts, except the most impoverished citizens, put some of their own money into the coverage. And the coverage will come from the private sector, not a government program.
Whether these details can survive in a bruising primary season is another matter. Romney's conservative rivals migth reduce his plan to "big government" shorthand.
The biggest potential conservative concern, however, is that Romney's endorsement of universal health care might make the whole concept (which they assailed during the Clinton years) seem more appealing to a broader segment of the electorate. And that might benefit the Democrats most of all, since they have pushing the concept for years.
Would GOP primary voters forgive him for that? Even if he tries to make it up to them by touting his opposition to gay family adoptions?