OPPOSING THE IDEAS THEY SUPPORT — MANDATE EDITION…. When conservative opponents of health care reform characterize the new law as undermining “freedom,” they’re generally talking about the individual mandate. If Americans are required to have health insurance, our “liberty” will deteriorate. Or something.

Indeed, when conservatives decided they’d rely on judicial activism as a last resort in killing health care reform, they targeted the mandate as the most outrageous provision. It’s worth reminding them, then, that it was conservative Republicans who came up with the mandate idea in the first place.

“The truth is this is a Republican idea,” said Linda Quick, president of the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association. She said she first heard the concept of the “individual mandate” in a Miami speech in the early 1990s by Sen. John McCain, a conservative Republican from Arizona, to counter the “Hillarycare” the Clintons were proposing.

McCain did not embrace the concept during his 2008 election campaign, but other leading Republicans did, including Tommy Thompson, secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush.

Seeking to deradicalize the idea during a symposium in Orlando in September 2008, Thompson said, “Just like people are required to have car insurance, they could be required to have health insurance.”

Among the other Republicans who had embraced the idea was Mitt Romney, who as governor of Massachusetts crafted a huge reform by requiring almost all citizens to have coverage.

“Some of my libertarian friends balk at what looks like an individual mandate,” Romney wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2006. “But remember, someone has to pay for the health care that must, by law, be provided: Either the individual pays or the taxpayers pay. A free ride on government is not libertarian.”

Romney was referring to the federal law that requires everyone to be treated in emergency rooms, regardless of their ability to pay.

The reversals have occasionally been hard to believe. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) told Fox News last summer, “I believe that there is a bipartisan consensus to have individual mandates…. There isn’t anything wrong with it.” He later said he would oppose the Democratic proposal because individual mandates are, as he put it, “non-constitutional.”

Also note, Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) all are on record co-sponsoring a reform measure that included an individual mandate. And then all of them voted for a measure to declare the individual mandate unconstitutional.

All the Democratic outreach and compromise options in the world can’t overcome the fundamental lack of seriousness that comes with a party that opposes and supports the same ideas at the same time.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.