Jonathan Gruber says voters are 'stupid.' But the real idiots are the Democrats in Congress.
Lucky us, we get to have another pointless, irritating conversation about ObamaCare, all because of an MIT professor with a bad case of foot-in-mouth disease and a shameless conservative movement with an unsurpassed ability to whip itself into a frenzy over inane nonsense.
I'm speaking, of course, about the latest scandal involving Jonathan Gruber, the MIT health economist who worked as an adviser on ObamaCare. Setting aside the policy substance of his rather garbled and misleading remarks, which have already been dispatched by others, I'm going to focus on the most offensive part. In a recently surfaced video that has made the rounds, Gruber alleged that parts of ObamaCare were not designed transparently, because "lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to get anything to pass."
Danny Vinik correctly argues that Gruber is right about how Congress views policy-making. He's also right that both parties do these sorts of things all the time. But he's wrong to suggest that it's the stupidity of American voters at work here — it's Congress, and to a lesser extent, the political press, that have brain problems.
The root problem of the negotiations over ObamaCare was that Democrats were obsessed with Beltway political neuroses. They strained mightily to ensure the policy didn't increase the deficit. They delayed implementation for two whole years to make the policy look cheaper than it really was (because the Congressional Budget Office traditionally scores laws over 10 years). They twisted themselves into knots to avoid the individual mandate being labeled as a tax (which the Supreme Court forced on them anyway).
Nobody outside the political elite cares about this kind of stuff. At all. Indeed, it's fair to say that most American voters aren't even aware of these machinations. Most Americans barely know which party is in charge of which part of government, whether the deficit is going up or down, which presidential candidate has which platform, etc., let alone the tortured negotiation details of hugely complex piece of legislation.
But that's ignorance, not stupidity. And who can blame them? Our media is generally atrocious and has the attention span of a gnat. Politics is depressing and horrible. Our constitutional structure is really strange and hard to figure out. And people have better things to do! The whole point of representative democracy is to outsource this incomprehensible garbage to elected officials. I read about this stuff all day and can barely keep abreast of it.
Though the likes of Ron Fournier and the Bowles-Simpson commission wring their handkerchiefs about the deficit and the CBO's scoring window, it barely matters when it comes to political brass tacks.
In the 2010 elections, after Democrats had burned up more than a year of their precious majority making their sweeping health care bill fit all the Beltway pieties, they got obliterated at the polls anyway. All that political cowardice and ass-covering was completely pointless. They might as well have torched the filibuster and gone for single-payer — shoot, they couldn't have done worse if they had.
ObamaCare would have been better policy, and Democrats would have been better off politically, if they had just ignored the clown show that passes for a mainstream political press in this country and passed a simple, bold reform that worked. Better still, they would have had more legislative time to address the dozens of other critical policy problems that have since been ignored.
Best of all, we could have avoided all the obnoxious faux-outrage that dogs the issue to this day.