The Return of Massachusetts Mitt

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Mitt Romney’s political career is winding down in the same fashion it began:  As a token Republican trophy on the shelf of the Kennedy Dynasty.

On Friday, March 26, Romney was named the 2021 recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage award. The Utah senator was dutifully obsequious. “I’m very appreciative of the honor,” Romney acknowledged, “but also humbled by it.”

Romney is being honored by the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation for his vote to convict President Donald Trump in February 2020, following the first impeachment trial of the Republican chief executive. At the time, Romney secured a place in history as the only senator from a president’s own party to vote for his conviction and removal from office. Democrats were understandably grateful to Romney, who reprised his role in February 2021 with yet another vote to convict the Republican president, this time joined by six other GOP senators. Thus, Romney again made history as the only senator to vote twice for convicting a president of a shared political party.

President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline lavished praise on the former Massachusetts governor. “He was,” she said, “willing to risk his career and his popularity within his own party to do what’s right for our country and to follow his conscience and Constitution and his impeachment votes.”

In gratitude, Romney reiterated, “I’m humbled by the Kennedy family’s recognition today.” 

Romney’s supine position before the Kennedys might be summed up in a phrase:  Humbled today, pummeled yesterday.

It seems appropriate that Romney circles back to Massachusetts and the Kennedy family for an award recognizing his progressive side. When he entered the political fray in 1994, Mitt Romney challenged incumbent Senator Ted Kennedy, whose reelection seemed at risk in the year of the 25th anniversary of the Chappaquiddick scandal. Romney campaigned as a pro-abortion “Bill Weld Republican,” trying to shift the GOP away from traditional Reagan conservatism. Across the United States, Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate by picking up eight previously Democrat Senate seats in 1994. But Kennedy swatted away the challenger, trouncing Romney in a 58% to 41% landslide.

After that humiliation, Romney shied away from elective politics until 2002, when he ran for governor of the Bay State. This time, he campaigned as an experienced managerial Republican who would take on the big-spending Beacon Hill Democrats. Romney won the election, but lost the budget battle. Or more accurately, he simply surrendered. Rather than reform state spending, Romney hiked hundreds of millions of dollars in under-the-radar fees and fines, pliantly doing the bidding of the Democrat power-brokers he had pledged to take on. 

Perhaps still chastened by his earlier senatorial loss, Romney then set on a path to secure the approval of the state’s senior senator. Ted Kennedy’s most cherished political goal was to foist universal health insurance upon the public. But the liberal senator had never figured out how to pay for such a gigantic government program without massive tax hikes or unsustainable levies upon private businesses. 

The technocratic Romney figured out a way. 

Instead of raising taxes, Romney decided to force every person in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to purchase a health insurance plan — whether or not that person needed or wanted it. Romney’s draconian solution was dubbed “the individual mandate.”

For the first time in American history, persons were mandated by the government to buy a product simply because they breathed; otherwise they faced significant tax fines and hefty penalties. Romney reasoned that forcing healthy taxpayers to buy over-priced health insurance products would drive down costs, a presumption that proved temporary at best and illusory at worst. 

What Romneycare did drive down was the amount of personal freedom each citizen enjoyed. Romney’s individual mandate eliminated the personal freedom to choose whether to buy health insurance. Naturally, Romney had campaigned for governor as a so-called pro-choice Republican. Once in office, he arrogantly stripped individuals of the longstanding right to choose insurance. Nor was anyone permitted to purchase a health insurance plan that did not pay for abortion or contraception. So much for freedom. So much for choice. 

There was more than a little irony in Romney’s patting himself on the back for “responding to the promptings of conscience” and “to the cause of freedom” when receiving the Kennedy award. “I sleep well,” he professed, “because I know that I did what my conscience told me was the right thing to do.”  

As the saying goes, “that’s rich” coming from the Massachusetts politician who reduced the sphere of individual freedom, while preventing families from having access to health insurance policies that best fit their needs and consciences. 

In 2010, Romney again served liberal Democrats by providing the roadmap to Obamacare, the federal universal health plan that adopted the punitive individual mandate. Although Kennedy died shortly before the Affordable Care-Obamacare bill passed into law, he was well aware of the critical contribution Romneycare made to the development and implementation of the national plan.

History, as the saying goes, is written by the victors. Right now, liberals are the victors politically and culturally. It’s no surprise that they would be hailing Romney for allying with Democrats against a conservative Republican president. The Kennedy Library Foundation committee that selected Romney has “binders full” of liberals:  Georgia Democrat leader Stacey Abrams, Texas Democrat U.S. Representative Joaquin Castro, former Democrat U.S. senators Chris Dodd and Claire McCaskill, Obama political operatives David Axelrod and Adam Frankel, and Kennedy family members Caroline and her son Jack Schlossberg.

One can understand why Romney might be overwhelmed by praise from such a who’s who of Democrat movers and shakers. Still, Romney should be aware that the final act is not yet written. Not one of those liberals had a good thing to say about him when he ran for and lost the presidency in 2008 and 2012. Of course, he entered those races after conveniently morphing into the guise of self-proclaimed “severe” conservative. At the time, Romney’s newfound progressive boosters no doubt chuckled when they heard him stumble over phrases like “binders full of women” and awkwardly — and inaccurately — call himself “a severely conservative Republican governor.”

Finding Utah more amenable to his carefully constructed conservative persona, Romney won a U.S. Senate seat there in 2018. From that conservative perch, he cast his historic votes against a Republican president.

Oddly enough, it was none other than Ted Kennedy who first noticed Romney’s lack of political principle. In the 1994 Massachusetts U.S. Senate campaign, Kennedy scored telling political points by unmasking Romney’s flip-flopping positions as “multiple choice.” Whatever Kennedy’s shortcomings, he never shied away from being a dyed-in-the-wool liberal. In Romney, Kennedy saw someone who lacked a philosophical core, and he effectively exploited that weakness in the campaign.

Now, the Kennedy family is honoring Romney for yet one more political transformation. Sometimes such shifts are dismissed as pure opportunism. Other times they help to secure one’s place in history. But not always for the better.

Just ask Benedict Arnold.


Joseph Tortelli is a freelance writer. Read other columns by Mr. Tortelli here.