A not-so-oldie but goodie recovered from the Internet memory hole by Andrew Kaczynski. Why are you just (re-)learning of this now instead of having been reminded of it by Gingrich and Santorum daily for the past six months? Well, (a) the original op-ed has oddly disappeared from the archives at USA Today (the link above goes to a Romney fan site), (b) Gingrich and Santorum run barebones campaigns which can’t afford robust oppo teams, and (c) I think most people are so thoroughly confused by Romney’s position on federal and state health care that they’re not sure what’s a gotcha anymore and what isn’t. For instance, we already know that Romney said in 2010 he’d prefer to get rid of the bad parts of ObamaCare but “keep the good,” and it was pretty clear at the time that he thought the “incentives” in the law a la Massachusetts’s mandate were some of the good parts. He also allegedly once told a conservative blogger flat out that he wouldn’t repeal O-Care’s mandate, but there was no audio to prove it. And of course, during the last campaign when health-care mandates weren’t the hot button that they are now, he was upfront about how much he liked them. Watch the DNC’s highlight reel embedded below, which includes a memorable exchange with Fred Thompson during one of the Republican debates.

Near as I can tell, he only really started to flip on federal mandates last year when the campaign reached full speed, telling O’Reilly that O-Care’s mandate is unconstitutional whereas federalism protects RomneyCare’s. Back in 2009, though, the constitutional arguments were apparently far from his mind:

Massachusetts also proved that you don’t need government insurance. Our citizens purchase private, free-market medical insurance. There is no “public option.” With more than 1,300 health insurance companies, a federal government insurance company isn’t necessary. It would inevitably lead to massive taxpayer subsidies, to lobbyist-inspired coverage mandates and to the liberals’ dream: a European-style single-payer system. To find common ground with skeptical Republicans and conservative Democrats, the president will have to jettison left-wing ideology for practicality and dump the public option.

Our experience also demonstrates that getting every citizen insured doesn’t have to break the bank. First, we established incentives for those who were uninsured to buy insurance. Using tax penalties, as we did, or tax credits, as others have proposed, encourages “free riders” to take responsibility for themselves rather than pass their medical costs on to others. This doesn’t cost the government a single dollar. Second, we helped pay for our new program by ending an old one — something government should do more often. The federal government sends an estimated $42 billion to hospitals that care for the poor: Use those funds instead to help the poor buy private insurance, as we did.

Again, watch the clip. Romney’s always thought of the mandate as a conservative measure aimed at making people take personal responsibility for their own health care. (As did some prominent conservatives, Gingrich included, before the issue became toxic under Obama.) It’s shocking that, as late as summer 2009 — actually, even later per the “keep the good” bit linked above — he’d misread the mood of the base badly enough to think he could sell them on the right-wing merits of compulsory health-care purchases, but then that’s what makes him Mitt Romney. And the subsequent flip to the position that of course the mandate is unconstitutional — that’s what really makes him Mitt Romney.

You’ll be pleased to know that old videos shot by Democratic operatives have begun to surface at big media outlets, which means the Hopenchange oppo operation is officially underway. The first salvo: Mr. Washington Outsider touting his D.C. connections in 2002 to reassure Massachusetts voters that he’d secure as much federal money for them as he could. Only eight more months to go! Exit question: I can understand people who think the rest of the field are “conservative nutjobs” backing Romney, but … Ted Nugent?