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Kinsley: Hitting Romney below the belt?

The Romney people are trying a little jujitsu on an ad from Obama backers that implies Mitt Romney is responsible for the death of an Indiana woman who lacked health insurance. They want to turn the ad against Obama and to tar the president as the bad guy — the ruthless politician — of this campaign. And they seem to have convinced the gullible media that the ad is a lie. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, badgering an Obama spokeswoman for a quote, said bluntly Wednesday on air that the story told in the ad “just isn’t so.”

Leave aside the fact that the ad comes from a pro-Obama “super PAC,” which by law is supposed to be totally unconnected with the campaign. Although there is a lot of wink-wink about super PACs in both parties, there is no evidence that anyone violated the rules in this case.

The ad is certainly tough and effective, but is it dishonest? It does not accuse Romney of murder. It does accuse him of indirect responsibility for a woman’s death. It says that because the woman’s husband lost his job and his health insurance when Bain Capital bought his company and closed his plant, the woman was slow to get medical care when she started feeling ill, and as a result was diagnosed with stage four cancer — terminal — when she finally sought help. She died shortly thereafter.

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Critics say that when her husband was let go, the woman still had health insurance through her own employer, but lost it when she had to quit her own job due to unrelated medical problems. Well, so what? Any story like this is going to involve a series of misfortunes. It remains true that but for Bain’s decision to close the plant, she would have been covered by her husband’s insurance.

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By the time the plant was closed, Romney was no longer in charge of day-to-day decisions at Bain. Again, so what? He still had overall responsibility for the company. He wants credit as a brilliant entrepreneur for his time at Bain. If a decision to close a plant and lay off hundreds of workers was considered so minor as to be unworthy of his attention, that says something about Romney and the culture he built at the company. Maybe layoffs were essential, or at least a good idea. But a good corporate leader should at least have had input on a decision that everyone knows will cause pain.

It is uncontested that lack of insurance is what killed this woman. And this is hardly a unique situation. It is statistically certain that, in our absurd current healthcare system, layoffs will cause people to lose their insurance, and it is statistically certain that losing insurance will cost some of them their lives. This puts the Republican nightmare scenarios about “death panels” in the healthcare debate two years ago in some perspective. Romney has promised to stop implementation of the Obama healthcare reform on “Day One” of his administration, and to kill it by legislation as soon as possible thereafter. So even if he isn’t responsible for the death of Ranae Soptic, he will be responsible for future deaths, if he is elected — and this time with malice aforethought.

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The Romney camp’s reaction to all this, beyond accusations that Obama is calling their man a murderer, beggars belief. A spokeswoman said, “If people had been in Massachusetts, under Gov. Romney’s healthcare plan, they would have had healthcare.” Until now, Romney himself has refused to endorse his own plan in retrospect, except to say that it is unique to Massachusetts and what works in one state may not work in another. Famously, his Massachusetts plan includes the requirement that everybody purchase insurance, with help for those who can’t afford it. This is the essence of Obama’s plan, to which Romney now deeply objects.

And — crowning absurdity — in Israel last week, Romney praised the Israeli healthcare system, noting that it costs just 8% of Israel’s GDP while ours costs 18% of a much larger GDP. He said we should try to learn from it. Excellent point.

How does Israel do it? Single-payer — essentially a government-run program.

Michael Kinsley, a former editorial page editor of The Times, is a Bloomberg View columnist.


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