Mitt Romney, who is clearly on a path to run again for the Republican presidential nomination, made a speech Saturday in New Hampshire (a critical waystation on that road) that attracted much notice.
In it, the former Massachusetts governor called for the repeal of the new health care law perjoratively called "ObamaCare" by its critics.
For Romney, who came up short in 2008 his quest for his party's nomination, the call for repeal is something of a political problem since perhaps his most memorable achievement as a state chief executive was his enactment of a health insurance law requiring that citizens buy insurance, a requirement also known as an individual mandate.
By enacting legislation in his state but calling for repeal of national legislation, Romney could be reinforcing the sense many voters have had about him that he lacks a certain constancy on important issues.
For instance, he went from supporting abortion rights when he was running for state-wide office in liberal Massachusetts, to becoming anti-abortion when, as governor of Massachusetts, he appeared to be positioning himself for a presidential run.
With that as the backdrop, Romney has been road-testing an answer for those who might accuse him of flip-flopping on mandating health care coverage. It's the same argument many other Republican critics have made; that while states have the power to impose such mandates, the federal government doesn't.
Here's a large chunk of what he said:
Living in New Hampshire, you've heard of our healthcare program next door in Massachusetts. You may have noticed that the President and his people spend more time talking about me and Massachusetts healthcare than Entertainment Tonight spends talking about Charlie Sheen.
Our approach was a state plan intended to address problems that were in many ways unique to Massachusetts. What we did was what the Constitution intended for states to do—we were one of the laboratories of democracy.
Our experiment wasn't perfect—some things worked, some didn't, and some things I'd change. One thing I would never do is to usurp the constitutional power of states with a one-size-fits-all federal takeover.
I would repeal Obamacare, if I were ever in a position to do so. My experience has taught me that states are where healthcare programs for the uninsured should be crafted, just as the Constitution provides. Obamacare is bad law, bad policy, and it is bad for America's families.
The federal government isn't the answer for running healthcare any more than it's the answer for running Amtrak or the Post Office. An economy run by the federal government doesn't work for Europe and it won't work here.
The right answer is not to believe in European solutions. The right answer is to believe in America—to believe in freedom, free enterprise, capitalism, limited government, federalism—and to believe in the constitution, as it was written and intended by the founders.
Again, Romney's position squares with that of many Republican critics of the new health care law who believe states have certain powers constitutionally reserved to them. So it's not an exotic argument he's making.
But Romney doesn't only have only his own history of seemingly changing his mind significantly on issues at politically convenient moments to contend with; he has a president determined to make it look like Romney is really the federal health care law's spiritual father.
Speaking to a bipartisan group of governors last week, President Obama said:
"I agree with Mitt Romney, who recently said he's proud of what he accomplished on health care in Massachusetts and said he supports giving states the power to determine their own health care solutions."
By the time Obama's done, you'll be forgiven for thinking Romney's his 2012 running mate. Which is why Romney is working so hard to highlight what he sees as the key differences.
Will it work? Obama is banking on it not working.
And on the other side of the ideological spectrum, Kevin Hassett at the American Enterprise Institute and a critic of the federal law, writes in a Bloomberg News opinion piece that Romney has his job cut out for him.
The Massachusetts experience shows us how bad it would be for the U.S. if Congress doesn't repeal Obamacare. When it does go down, Romney will indirectly be responsible. Being the first to drive off a cliff, however, hardly qualifies one for the White House.