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Last week, conservatives of all stripes were handed a great big steaming pile of disappointment when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare") was constitutional. In particular, the Supremes upheld the "individual mandate," which requires most people to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
The reaction was pretty much what you'd expect from the unhinged right, for whom Obama Derangement Syndrome is the new normal. There were calls for the impeachment of Chief Justice John Roberts. Someone briefly changed Roberts' Wikipedia page to brand him "Chief Traitor of the United States."
Former Michigan GOP spokesperson Matt Davis went even further: "[H]as the Republic all but ceased to exist?" he wrote on the Michigan Capitol blog. "If so, then is armed rebellion today justified?" When pressed for clarification, he refused to back down: "You can't have people walking with lattes and signs and think the object of your opposition is going to take you seriously. Armed rebellion is the end point of that physical confrontation."
Later, however, he did amend his remarks to say he'd "take out the part about armed rebellion." Whew. Good thing. Else someone might think the right wing was made up of, you know, radical traitors.
Some conservatives did paw through the wreckage of their hopes for a black eye for the president, trying to salvage something. They found it, or so they thought, in Chief Justice Roberts' opinion that, while the mandate could not be upheld as an exercise of the Constitution's Commerce Clause, it did fall within their power to levy and collect taxes, because of the penalty provision. They seized upon the idea of a "tax" and began waving it about with glee.
"The biggest tax increase in the history of the world!" trumpeted Rush Limbaugh. (Wrong, as usual. As noted by numerous sources, even if you accept it as a tax, it comes in 10th in U.S. history, behind Bush the Elder's 1990 tax increase and far behind that of Saint Ronnie Reagan in 1992.)
But calling the mandate a tax increase, while it handed the Republicans in Congress a new talking point, handed their presidential candidate a ticking time bomb. Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts, which he's on video touting as a model for the country, contained a nearly identical health insurance mandate. But Romney's insisting he didn't raise taxes in Massachusetts.
So, when campaign spokesman Eric Fehnstrom (who gave us the notorious "Etch A Sketch" quote) told NBC that Mitt "disagreed with the ruling of the court. He agreed with the dissent written by Justice Scalia, which very clearly stated that the mandate was not a tax," he really didn't have any choice.
Or did he? If you're Mitt Romney, you always have a choice, if you regard directly contradicting what you just said as a choice. Wednesday, Mitt raised that Etch A Sketch above his head and shook with all his might to try to wipe out his campaign's stated position of the day before.
"While I agreed with the dissent," Romney said, "that's taken over by the fact that the majority of the court said it is a tax, and therefore it is a tax. They have spoken. There is no way around that."
Now, one could view this not as a contradiction, but as a nuanced statement that Romney still doesn't think it's a tax, but that it's legally one now, so we have to live with that. But that hands Romney another set of problems:
First, Republicans don't do nuance. Nuance is what they beat John Kerry to death with in 2004. The second problem is similar: The rubes, racists and rageaholics of the Republican base hate the president so much, they will completely disregard anything Romney says or does and pull the lever for him anyway.
Romney could kill a kitten with a hammer at the podium during a campaign stop and by nightfall, right-wing bloggers, Republican talk radio and Fox News would be flooded with pundits insisting the kitten had it coming, and it'd be an article of faith among the Rabid Right by the weekend.
But to independents and undecideds, saying, as Romney did in a CBS interview, "It wasn't a tax when I did it, but it is when it's in Obamacare," makes you look like a weasel. Romney is just that, of course, but this particular act of weaseltude may be the one he can't wiggle away from.