How Does Mitt Romney Define Federalism?

Mitt Romney gave a big speech yesterday about jobs, or what he’d do as president to create more of them. He had entry and exit music, which means it was obviously a big deal. And while I am actually curious to know why it’s Panama, Colombia, and South Korea, that the U.S. needs free-trade agreements with (as Romney said yesterday), it was another Mitt-related item that caught my eye today.

Scott Lehigh has a column in the Globe that takes issue with the number of political platitudes and cliches Romney has rolled out over the last few weeks. Give Lehigh bonus points for a gratuitous Seamus reference, but it was his bit on federalism that got me thinking. Writing about all the things Mitt’s said he’s in love with lately (his wife, the Constitution, etc., etc.), Lehigh says:

Where did Mitt’s love lead, you ask? To his patented 10th Amendment pivot. You recall the 10th: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The 10th lets Romney explain why he’s determined to repeal ObamaCare nationally, even though he fathered RomneyCare locally. This would be the same RomneyCare on which ObamaCare is modeled — and which Romney once considered a good GOP model for health care reform.

Romney has essentially tried to explain away the Massachusetts healthcare plan he helped devise by saying that healthcare is an issue for states to deal with individually. What we did here in Massachusetts works for us but may not be right for others. Each state should be able to choose for itself.

At the same time, though, Romney has signed an anti-gay marriage pledge and supports a federal amendment banning it. Apparently, gay marriage is not an issue for the states. We need the federal government to decide that one for us.

So what I’m looking for from Romney is a detailed explanation of his view of federalism. When does an issue reside with the states and why? When does an issue become the province of the federal government? What are the principles guiding his beliefs on this?

Of course, we’ll probably never get this. As best I can tell, Romney’s theory of federalism is based on political convenience. After all, since the beginning of this country, “states’ rights” has been a political crutch used to stand in for issues that folks found it too uncomfortable to argue on their merits. From the days of nullification all the way through the civil rights movement and up to today, precious few have actually ever even made an earnest states’ rights argument. Why should Mitt Romney be the first?