Explaining the Mandate in Language Conservatives Can Understand

| Wed Mar. 28, 2012 12:14 PM EDT

Matt Yglesias points today to former White House spokesman Reid Cherlin, who says "Take It From Me: Defending Obamacare is Super-Hard." Matt thinks it's not as hard as all that, but in general, I think I'm on Cherlin's side here. Taken as a whole, Obamacare is really hard to explain to people.

However, I do agree that defending the individual mandate isn't that hard. In fact, the best explanation I've heard recently came in January from none other than Mitt Romney, explaining why a mandate is part of the healthcare reform bill he championed in Massachusetts:

ROMNEY: For the 8 percent of people who didn't have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There's no government plan.

And if you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.

SANTORUM: Does everybody in Massachusetts have a requirement to buy health care?

ROMNEY: Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care. Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea.

Not bad! No more free riders. "The idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea." And guess what? It's not such a good idea in the other 49 states either.