The epic search of the Greek philosopher Diogenes for an honest man is finally over. His name is Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist once known as an intellectual architect of Obamacare, although his status is being rapidly downgraded by the law’s supporters with every one of his uncomfortably frank utterances about President Barack Obama’s signature initiative.
Video surfaced of Gruber saying at a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania last year that the law was written in a deceptive, nontransparent way to exploit “the stupidity of the American voter.”
Gruber swiftly went on MSNBC to explain that his comments should be discounted because he was speaking “off the cuff.” Then two other videos surfaced of him saying much the same thing at different venues. Calling the American public stupid appears to have been one of Gruber’s favorite rhetorical tropes. At one of his appearances, his audience can be heard laughing appreciatively.
H.L. Mencken famously wrote that no one has “ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” Or, Gruber might add, ever failed to pass major social legislation by doing the same.
His impolitic remarks now have some Obama supporters suggesting that Gruber — one of the most influential health-care wonks in the country, who was integral to crafting the Massachusetts precursor to Obamacare and then Obamacare itself — is just some random, poorly spoken guy.
This denies Gruber his due. He has done us all a favor by affording us an unvarnished look into the progressive mind, which values complexity over simplicity, favors indirect taxes and impositions on the American public so their costs can be hidden, and has a dim view of the average American.
Complexity is a staple of liberal policymaking. It is a product of its scale and reach, but also of the imperative to hide the ball. Taxing and spending and redistributive schemes tend to be unpopular, so clever ways have to be found to deny that they are happening. This is what Gruber was getting at. One reason Obamacare was so convoluted is that its supporters didn’t want to straightforwardly admit how much the law was raising taxes and leveraging the young and healthy to subsidize everyone else.
Gruber crowed about the exertions undertaken to make an unpopular tax on expensive health-insurance plans, the so-called Cadillac tax, more palatable. It was levied on employers instead of employees. No one realized, Gruber explained, that the tax would be functionally the same even if not directly imposed on workers. This wasn’t a one-off deception. This kind of sleight of hand is crucial to the progressive project, which always involves imposing taxes, regulations and mandates at one remove from the average person so he or she won’t realize that the costs are passed down regardless.
Most liberals would never come out and call Americans stupid in a public forum, like Gruber did. But the debate between conservatives and liberals on health-care policy and much else comes down to how much average Americans can be trusted to make decisions on their own without the guiding, correcting hand of government. An assumption that Americans are incompetent is woven into the left’s worldview. It is reluctant to entrust individuals with free choice for fear they will exercise it poorly and irresponsibly.
So Gruber deserves to be listened to, even if he ultimately got it wrong. The public is smarter than he and other Obamacare supporters give it credit for. It has never believed the magical, deliberately deceptive promises about Obamacare, or supported the law that continues to be a drag on the Democratic Party.
Rather than congratulating themselves on their cleverness, the law’s architects might better reflect on how, even with crushing majorities in the House and the Senate, they had to lie and obfuscate to get Obamacare passed. That is damning commentary, not on the American public, but their misbegotten handiwork.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.