When Mitt “Repeal” Romney Embraced Teddy Kennedy

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Yesterday, in a post about President Obama’s offshore oil drilling plan, I noted that the “candidate of change” had once talked out of both sides of his mouth on offshore exploration. He condemned John McCain for wanting to expand offshore oil drilling one day, and then said another day that he was open to expanding it. So it goes.

But despite his occasional message duplicity, Obama has largely succeeded in avoiding the impression that he will change positions just to pander for votes. This is a political talent Obama has that Mitt Romney has historically lacked. In recent months, Romney has made great strides in actually presenting himself more like he is, saying recently at a book event that he should have stuck to his “power alley” in 2008, that is his expertise in business and economics, and not spent so much time trying desperately to remake himself into a social conservative hero. “I think that one of the things that’s very important in running a campaign is to make sure that you’re known for the things that really motivate you,” he said. (Can’t say I didn’t tell you so, Governor.)

And yet, Romney seems unable to avoid his penchant for wild swings in his public presentation. Exhibit A is the over-the-top statement that Romney put out after Health Care Reform passed, which is remarkable for both its vitriol and lawyerly delicacy. (You have to read it a couple times before you realize that most of the venom is not directed at the policy but the process.) Gail Collins takes a borderline gratuitous (really, more about the dog?) shot this morning at Romney along these lines, since it was Romney after all who got a similar health care reform set up in Massachusetts. There are some differences between the Romney plan and the Obama plan–one is state, one is federal, one 70 pages long, one takes longer to read, as Romney’s website points out. But overall, it is hard to argue that they are entirely different animals, as Kate points out below. Both are based on the freedom-killing principle of an individual mandate.

Reading Collins’ piece, I was suddenly taken back, as if in a dream, to a more wondrous time, for me at least, during the 2008 Iowa Straw Poll at Ames. Back then, Romney was on a different tack, arguing that his past embrace of Ted Kennedy’s health care vision for Massachusetts was something of a badge of honor. This really happened. I have video, though I must apologize for the shaky camera work and poor audio quality.

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One of the most interesting questions of the coming Republican primary season is which Mitt Romney will show up. Will it be the Romney he is, a geeky wonk, who knows business, overflows with competence and is driven by an eager call to service? Or will it be the micro-marketed Romney, who thinks he can become in the moment whatever his spreadsheets tell him to become? I have my opinion about which one could create a real threat for President Obama in 2012. But I am not sure Romney has made up his mind.