Obama's Ruthless Politics vs. Romney's Ruthless Management

Mitt Romney's people are trying a little jiu jitsu on an Obama ad implying that Romney is responsible for the death of a Kansas City woman who lacked health insurance. They want to turn the ad against President Barack Obama and tar him as the bad guy -- the ruthless politician -- of this campaign.

And they seem to have persuaded the gullible media that the ad is a lie. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, badgering an Obama spokeswoman for a quote, said bluntly today on the air that the story told in the ad “just isn’t so.” So is it?

Leave aside the fact that the ad comes from a so-called "super-PAC,” which by law is supposed to be totally unconnected from the campaign. Although there is a lot of wink-wink about super-PACs in both parties, and the widower featured in this ad has previously appeared in an official Obama campaign ad, 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, Joe Soptic, lost his job and his health insurance when Bain Capital bought his company and closed his plant, his wife, Ranae, 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.

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.

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 her lack of insurance hastened this woman's death. And this is hardly a unique situation. It is statistically certain that, in our absurd current health-care 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 health-care debate a few years ago in some perspective. Romney has promised to stop implementation of the Obama health care law on “Day One” of his administration, and to kill it by legislation as soon as possible thereafter. So even if 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.

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 Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care.” Until now, Romney himself has refused to explicitly 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 health-care system, noting that it costs just 8 percent of Israel’s GDP while ours costs 18 percent 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 is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

Bloomberg reserves the right to edit or remove comments but is under no obligation to do so, or to explain individual moderation decisions.

Please enable JavaScript to view the comments powered by Disqus.