Of all the gaffes Mitt Romney has made in his 'round the world tour, the most telling is his glowing comments about the Israeli health care system, which is in some part socialized. (In the true definition of the word, in which it does not mean simply universal health care by any means nor a single payer system a la Medicare.)
Here's what he said:
When our health care costs are completely out of control. Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of the GDP in Israel? 8 percent. You spend 8 percent of GDP on health care. And you’re a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18 percent of our GDP on health care. 10 percentage points more. That gap, that 10 percent cost, let me compare that with the size of our military. Our military budget is 4 percent. Our gap with Israel is 10 points of GDP. We have to find ways, not just to provide health care to more people, but to find ways to finally manage our health care costs.
There's speculation that Romney didn't know any of the details of Israel's health care system, which includes government controls on costs and government-owned facilities delivering care. Or maybe he was so eager to praise his hosts in Israel that he glossed over his objections to socialized medicine.
But I think this incident is a perfect example of the "It's ok if Republicans/Conservatives do it" partisan thinking that's taken hold in America.
I've no doubt that if Romney had been elected in 2008, he'd have passed something very, very similar to Obamacare with plenty of both Republican and Democratic votes. Democrats and especially liberals would have groused, just as they criticized the same program when Bob Dole, via the Heritage Foundation, introduced it in the 90s, and when Romneycare passed in Massachusetts.
But we would not have a wide partisan divide on its popularity the way we have with Obamacare. Rank and file Republicans would praise it for keeping private health insurance companies in business and at the same time cutting costs. Its deficit cutting features would be widely touted.
And all because it would have an "R" after its presidential sponsor's name instead of a "D".
Republicans don't have huge ideological differences with their Democratic counterparts—this is the dirty little secret of American politics. Reports from closed-door meetings held during the creation of Obamacare all indicate there was no partisan bickering. Conservatives all over the world have embraced universal health care, in one form or another. Conservatives in America would, too, if it were introduced by a Republican, even a moderate Republican.
Because partisanship trumps ideology every day in American politics.
More important than any specific plan's ideological roots are its partisan roots: A jobs plan presented by a Republican president, which includes stimulus spending by the federal government, would pass in the most conservative Congress in history with votes to spare.
Why do Americans let their elected leaders get away with this? Because to most Americans, politics is just another sport. We root for our favorite team, regardless of which team is more deserving of our support. We buy what our leaders tell us on our favorite partisan network.
It's not any way to govern, but it works to run up the score.