The Obama campaign sent out a portion of the president's interview with Cincinnati’s NBC affiliate, in which he hammers Mitt Romney for his meandering response to the question of whether the individual mandate in the Affordable Care Act is a penalty or a tax.
“On the health care bill, Mr. Romney was one of the biggest promoters of the individual mandate," said Obama, according to the excerpt. "In Massachusetts, his whole idea was that we shouldn't have people who can afford to get health insurance to not buy it and then force you or me, or John Q. Public, to have to pay for him when he gets sick. That's irresponsible. That's exactly what's included as part of my health care plan."
“And the fact that a whole bunch of Republicans in Washington suddenly said, this is a tax -- for six years he said it wasn't, and now he has suddenly reversed himself. So the question becomes, are you doing that because of politics? Are you abandoning a principle that you fought for, for six years simply because you're getting pressure for two days from Rush Limbaugh or some critics in Washington?"
This is a touch unfair, if only because Romney's reversal hasn't been on the substance of the mandate (though one can sincerely argue that he wanted it to be a national model) but rather the way it's defined. At one point in time, Romney clearly thought of the mandate as a "tax penalty." The Massachusetts official government website labeled it as such. He is now clinging to vague passages in the Supreme Court's decision to make the case that it's a tax federally but a penalty on the state level.
That's a reversal with respect to semantics. If anything, Romney's made it tough on himself by not going further and reversing his position on matters of policy.
“One of the things that you learn as President is that what you say matters and your principles matter," Obama said. "And sometimes, you've got to fight for things that you believe in and you can't just switch on a dime.”