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December 16, 2011 3:40 PM Romney’s healthcare competence called into question

By Steve Benen

The conventional wisdom keeps telling me that Mitt Romney, for all his many faults (chronic dishonesty, incessant flip-flopping, cowardice, etc.), is at least a smart guy who cares about policy. Romney may lack integrity, we’re told, but at least he’s a vaguely technocratic wonk.

Except, I’m not at all convinced this guy is any smarter than his hapless Republican rivals. Romney speaks in complete sentences, which makes him look like a genius compared to Rick Perry, but consider some of the things the former governor says about his understanding of public policy. Here’s a gem from Iowa earlier today:

“Medicaid. You wonder what Medicaid is; those who aren’t into all this government stuff. You know, I have to admit, I didn’t know the differences between all these things until I got into government. Then I got into it and I understood that Medicaid is the health care program for the poor, by and large.”

I see. So, Mitt Romney, despite two degrees from Harvard, learned what Medicaid is when he became governor in 2002. He was 55 years old at the time.

Before he “got into government” and discovered what Medicaid is, Romney helped run a health company, which relied heavily on funding from — you guessed it — Medicare and Medicaid. What’s more, in his book, Romney boasts about having been a health care consultant, where he developed an expertise in how to deal with entitlements.

But he didn’t know what Medicaid was until he got into government?

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “Romney didn’t mean what he said this morning,” you’re going to tell me. “He was only saying he didn’t understand Medicaid so that he could pretend to relate to the people in the audience. This wasn’t ignorance; it was pandering.”

Perhaps. I can’t say with certainty what Romney is ignorant of, and what he only pretends to be ignorant of.

But if this is the accurate explanation, let’s appreciate a disconcerting fact: Romney is so desperate to appear folksy, he’s willing to lie about his lack of awareness to get people to relate to him. And that’s just sad.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Cal State Disneyland on December 16, 2011 3:52 PM:

    I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I'll I can think of is that cliched line from horror movie trailers... "Be afraid, be very afraid."

  • Cal State Disneyland on December 16, 2011 3:55 PM:

    Correction: "I'll" should be "All" above. I hate my typos.

  • Holmes on December 16, 2011 3:56 PM:

    The Romney camp released a statement saying he was "exaggerating".

  • biggerbox on December 16, 2011 3:59 PM:

    he's willing to lie ... to get people to relate to him

    And how, exactly, is this news?

    You don't really think he's actually changed his opinion during each of these flip-flops he's famous for, do you?

  • beejeez on December 16, 2011 4:08 PM:

    Easy, biggerbox. Somebody has to keep calling out Mitt. Steve's doing the Lord's work.

  • chi res on December 16, 2011 4:12 PM:

    "Then I got into it and I understood that Medicaid is the health care program for the poor, by and large."

    He continues, "Imagine that! A HEALTH CARE program for the POOR! What the hell will our stupid government think of next?!? Wasting our perfectly good TAX DOLLARS to keep POOR people alive! Not on MY watch, I tell you! NOT ON MY WATCH!!"

  • jjm on December 16, 2011 4:24 PM:

    I disagree with those who think Romney's smart, and pnly trying to be folksy... He is just not very bright.

    Now I know he's a businessman not a constitutional lawyer. But he apparently studied law in conjunction with business, so he should have a keener mind than he has.

    Being a 'business' major in my book always meant being a bit of a dummy, at least it did when he and I were growing up: business majors were at the time considered to have inferior intellects to just about every other student on campus, with the exception of the jocks.

    The adulation of 'businessmen' really should come to a halt. They are just not that bright, despite what the post-Reagan era tried to make of them -- or if they were once smart, their experience in business, with its singular focus on money and profit, has somehow stunted their intelligence to an alarming degree, as in the case of Romney..

  • Eeyore on December 16, 2011 4:25 PM:

    At the Iowa event, Romney also said this:

    "I want to make sure we have safety net," he said, adding: "I'm not terribly concerned about the rich. The rich are doing fine."

    Not if you listen to the wails and moans of the 1 percenters, who claim they are suffering from horrible, excessive taxation, plus the awful insults from that mean old Obama who makes them feel bad about themselves.

  • chopin on December 16, 2011 4:32 PM:

    He also said he was unemployed. Let's hope he stays that way. For the sake of our children.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on December 16, 2011 4:54 PM:

    Is there any evidence that Romney has above average intelligence? I don't know of it.

  • zeitgeist on December 16, 2011 5:04 PM:

    Romney is just one guy. The part of this that i find appalling and frightening (although, sadly, not surprising) is "he’s willing to lie about his lack of awareness to get people to relate to him."

    This says much more about the intellect of the audience than about Romney: if tens of millions of voters are assumed to want someone unaware because that means they have more in common with the candidate we have much bigger problems than Mitt Romney.

  • Gandalf on December 16, 2011 5:04 PM:

    I had to read that statement twice to see if I could make any sense of it. Having been a jock in college I guess I'm just not aware enough or smart enough to figure out what Romney was saying. But damn that sure was a word soup he spit out there.

  • walt on December 16, 2011 5:21 PM:

    The worst thing about Romney is not his lying. Nor is it his inveterate flip-flopping. It's his personification of I've Got Mine politics. If someone is poor, they're dehumanized for the sake of winning votes from yokels and rubes who would be poor themselves if not for the vigorous hand of government helping them out. This is the disease of modern Republicanism where mostly white older voters consider themselves winners because their helping hand came when Democrats were in office and Republicans won't pull the plug on their bennies until after they're gone.

    Really, I wish there was a way every Republican could personally experience the Randian dystopia they wish on everyone else.

  • square1 on December 16, 2011 6:05 PM:

    I would venture to guess that the truth is somewhere in the middle: Romney likely knew more than average about the programs when he ran Bain, and he likely didn't know as much as he should have.

    I'd bet that a majority of Americans, unless they work in the medical or insurance fields, are on Medicaid, or are over 65, do not know the difference between Medicaid and Medicare. Even if people know generally that Medicaid = poor, Medicare = old, they are unlikely to understand the differences in how the programs are administered.

    Romney has always been disastrously awkward in trying to seem average (e.g. "hey, wanna bet...$10k?", "I'm also unemployed"). But anyone who thinks that most politicians don't engage in the same type of pandering is kidding themselves. Most politicians are just a lot smoother.

    As a politician, you don't want to be in a room talking about cuts to Medicaid benefits and have half the audience think that you are cutting off granny. So you have two choices. You can say, "for those of you who don't know the difference, Medicaid is..." or you can say "Gosh, it was a while before I learned that Medicaid is..."

    Romney just can't pull it off very smoothly.

  • bigtuna on December 16, 2011 6:18 PM:

    Square1 - perhaps - - but you need to include people who have parents who are over 65, or have to go to long term care; etc. So the pool of people who should know is a bit bigger [but then again, since when do our elected officials go out of their way to help us understand things].

    " Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “Romney didn’t mean what he said this morning,” you’re going to tell me. “He was only saying he didn’t understand Medicaid so that he could pretend to relate to the people in the audience. This wasn’t ignorance; it was pandering.” "

    perhaps. but, god, I think this is the crappiest of political devices. "aw shucks, I don't know much about xxxx, ahm just a dipshit like y'all ..." what a stupid insulting device.

  • exlibra on December 16, 2011 6:49 PM:

    I didn’t know the differences between all these things until I got into government. Then I got into it and I understood that Medicaid is the health care program for the poor, by and large.” -- Chameleon Romney

    Medicaid also pays for extended care for seniors. I even seem to have read somewhere that that's where most of its money goes. It looks like the four years "in government" that he had wasn't enough to teach him that bit, and that's why he needs the four in the Oval Office -- the better to learn all those fiddly things, just in case he cannot simply repeal (repel?) them via a ukase, his first day in office.

  • square1 on December 16, 2011 7:14 PM:

    but you need to include people who have parents who are over 65

    Why? When my parents hit 65, I didn't suddenly get involved with their medical care and payment issues. Unless a parent becomes incompetent, there no need for an adult child to be involved in his or her parent's medical issues.

  • Butch on December 16, 2011 9:24 PM:

    square1, if you haven't been involved with at least discussing your parent's medical care - you may be in for a big (and possibly time consuming if not expensive) shock.

  • ManOutOfTime on December 16, 2011 9:29 PM:

    I'm so old, I can remember when Al Gore made the comment that his mother paid one price for a given drug for herself, and much less for the same drug for her dog and he was a big liiiiaaaar because his mother didn't have a dog - even though the substance of the scenario was true. IOKIYAR rules aside, Mittens is headed for a wood chipper in 2012. I hope he's not ready for it; I suspect he is not. He will achieve a level of laughingstockness that will make Dukakis and Gore look like Founding Fathers. Pass. The. Popcorn.

  • bob h on December 17, 2011 6:46 AM:

    Don't ask him the difference between Sunnis and Shias.

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