His senior adviser, Eric Fehrnstrom, went on MSNBC Monday and ended up agreeing with the Obama campaign's spin that, even though the Supreme Court declared the individual mandate a tax, it really still is a penalty. Significantly, his campaign appears to want to take the most potent argument against the president on the health care subject off the table, likely out of fear the Romney himself is vulnerable when it comes to his health care record. He, after all, supported a mandate as governor of Massachusetts, and doesn't want that to be considered a tax, either.First of all, it's interesting to note that many rightie critics of the Roberts decision on health-care (such as Jeff Goldstein) have faulted the Court for finding that the mandate was a tax---yet now Romney's camp, for also denying that the mandate is a tax, is being interpreted as capitulating to the left.
But there's another salient point beyond the semantics of "mandate" and "tax": there are plenty of other areas to criticize Obamacare about beyond just the mandate. The mandate was the focus of conservatives' arguments that Obama was unconstitutional; there are plenty of reasons why it's a problematic law. As Ann Coulter put it,
If Obamacare were a one-page bill that did nothing but mandate that every American buy health insurance, it would still be unconstitutional, but it wouldn't be the godawful train wreck that it is. It wouldn't even be the godawful train wreck that high-speed rail is.
It would not be a 2,000-page, trillion-dollar federal program micromanaging every aspect of health care in America with enormous, unresponsive federal bureaucracies manned by no-show public-sector union members enforcing a mountain of regulations that will bankrupt the country and destroy medical care, as liberals scratch their heads and wonder why Obamacare is costing 20 times more than they expected and doctors are leaving the profession in droves for more lucrative careers, such as video store clerk.
Nor is the fact that Romney is not screaming about health-care 24/7 in any way a sign that the campaign has given up talking about it. Certainly, many Republicans and conservatives are hammering Obama on health-care, and these attacks are being felt in the media dynamic. As a matter of electoral politics, Romney probably can't match the venom of some of these comments. He has criticized Obamacare and has pledged to work to repeal it. There's no need for Romney to fall into the media spin cycle and chase after headlines. Rather than trying to react to Obama, Romney can focus on asserting his own vision.
UPDATE: Ace has some related points:
But here's the thing: If ObamaTax is in fact a tax, then doesn't that mean... Justice Roberts got it right?
There's a lot of games-playing going on with politics, obviously. We're in campaign season, after all. The candidates do it, we do it.
I think a little too much is being pushed on to this point. On one hand, we're trying to recover some win from Roberts' disastrous decision by saying, "Well, at least he said it was a tax; that's politically useful."
On the other hand, we're insisting he got it wrong.
Well, if it got it wrong, it's not a tax. (Or I suppose there is a way to thread this needle: It's a tax, but an illegal tax, because it is not imposed for purposes of general revenues, but to force people into compliance with a federal law in an area the federal government has no authority... which actually winds up being a penalty, not a tax, so I guess that doesn't work.)
There's a lot of having-it-both-ways going on from all corners. Including from activists and pundits. I'm not sure how you can, in a single breath, declare Roberts' opinion in great error, and then castigate Romney for not embracing the erroneous opinion.