I know historians are supposed to reject counterfactuals, but let’s play counterfactual history. (Hey, some of us don’t play fantasy football!)
Let’s say that Romney won the nomination in 2008 and beat Obama. At the time, a lot of people on both sides of the aisle realized that the healthcare system was broken (how soon the Republicans have forgotten). Romney would have probably pushed something very similar to Obamacare.
Remember, Obamacare was based on Romneycare in Massachusetts, and proposals based on the Heritage Foundation’s proposals. So it would have looked very similar. Obama chose to back that proposal not because he thought it was ideal, but because he’s the kind of person who defines politics as the art of the possible.
The line that both progressives who favored single payer and conservatives who hated Obamacare were told was that it was an incremental step towards socialized medicine. But nobody would have said that if it had come from Whitebread McMoneybags. Nobody is mistaking Mittens for Che Guevara.
At this point, the same problems that have come about from Obamacare would be presenting themselves about Romneycare National Edition. Only the Republicans would be scrambling to keep the gains they made, not the Democrats.
And after eight years of Mitt Romney, which would have been kind of dark for a lot of people but nothing like the Looming Garbage Fire On the Horizon we have now, we’d have a Democrat in the White House. Almost any Democrat. Trump wouldn’t have ascended without Obama to raise hell against. The Democrats would likely hold the Senate, and the Tea Party takeover of the narrowly-controlled House would not have happened. When Scalia passed away, Mitt would have been in a similar boat to the one Obama was in, and he would have been replaced by a Republican Merrick Garland, a middle of the road conservative that would, if anything, push the SCOTUS more to the center. Liberal judges retiring in the next eight years could breathe easy.
President Literally Any Democrat would have a strong mandate, and would currently be working with the Senate Majority Leader and the House Minority Whip to get the votes necessary to implement a single payer plan. Because the mandate was there and if s/he shapes it right, the votes would be there. Because there *would be* some issues with Romneycare National Edition, just like there *are* some issues with Obamacare. We’d just be, as a nation, much better posed to address them in the appropriate and sensible manner–ie, by getting rid of the inherent waste of the for-profit, insurance based model.
Instead of fighting tooth and nail to defend the Republicans’ scraps from the pivoted, irrational right Republican Party, we’d be in a good place to have a reasoned debate about the merits of a single payer system.
This counterfactual has been bothering me all day. Not because I wish Romney had won… I’ve never voted for the man, and a lot of progress that has been made under Obama wouldn’t have been made under Romney. But because it makes me feel like so much of politics comes down to the messenger. We would be poised, on this one very important issue, an issue important to all Americans–but especially to the most vulnerable among us– for a very different discussion right now… And one that is much better for those most vulnerable, if Obamacare had been brought to us simply by a different messenger. A messenger with different political and racial baggage.
I want to think that politics is bigger than the identity of the messenger. I really do. But I’m not sure.