During his July experiment with international diplomacy, Mitt Romney’s encomium about the Israeli health care system provided a delicious illustration of one of our few remaining bipartisan sports: pandering to all things Israel.
“Do you realize what health care spending is as a percentage of GDP in Israel? Eight percent,” Romney intoned. “You spend 8% of GDP on health care. And you’re a pretty healthy nation. We spend 18% of our GDP on health care. Ten percentage points more.”
To appreciate the pandering, consider that Romney implicitly attacks virtually every component of Israel’s health care system when discussing health policy at home. Israel’s highly regulated system is funded mostly by taxes, and requires all Israelis to carry one of four not-for-profit government-funded insurance plans. A government board decides what is covered, and costs are controlled by comprehensive regulation.
So why would Romney endorse a system so reminiscent of what he routinely denounces? Partly, because of limited knowledge about Israel’s health policy. But more important, if you have national political aspirations in America, you must publicly support all things Israel. Whether it’s health policy or dog-catching strategies, you endorse Israel’s approach.
If you imply nuance or equivocation, you do so at your own political risk. If you suggest that America’s interests may not precisely mirror Israel’s, you fear millions in lost fundraising. And always, you fear voter accusations that you have abandoned an embattled democratic friend.
No other country fits remotely into such a paradigm. When a Lockerbie bomber was released from prison with government acquiescence in Britain, Hillary Rodham Clinton characterized it as “absolutely wrong.” As Canada pursues its Keystone pipeline and Europe its austerity programs, there is pointed debate in American political circles. Nobody suggests that disagreeing with close allies is inappropriate.