Paternalism is a desperate gamble that lying politicians will honestly care for those who fall under their power. This axiom has been made stark with the controversy arising from a video of Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of Obamacare, admitting that the administration conned the American public and blaming dumb voters for the flimflam.
Mr. Gruber, an MIT economist, received a $297,000 contract for his 2009-10 work on health care reform and helped lead the charge for the Affordable Care Act. In a video from an October 2013 panel at the Annual Health Economists conference, Mr. Gruber explained how Obamacare was sold to the public: “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 this thing to pass.” In another 2013 appearance, Mr. Gruber declared that one provision of Obamacare was included because “the American people are too stupid to understand the difference.”
Mr. Gruber also expressed his disdain for Americans’ intelligence with a comic book he co-wrote on the virtues of Obamacare. In one panel, he boasts that “I was part of the team that came up with the reform that changed the way Massachusetts handles medical coverage for the uninsured.” Congress should investigate whether Mr. Gruber’s emails and comments as part of the Obamacare legislative team explicitly advocated deceptive packaging or expressed derision for the American public.
The issue wasn’t transparency or voter stupidity, though. The real problem was the systemic deceit at the highest level of the Obama administration. Mr. Gruber admitted that the Obamacare “bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes the bill dies.” Unfortunately, five members of the Supreme Court chose to sanctify this charade, thus exempting Mr. Obama’s masterpiece from federal law and the Constitution.
Mr. Gruber told his fellow economists that “if you had a law which … made explicit [that] healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed.” So the Obama team covered the bill in smokescreens to hornswoggle people into acquiescing to the righteous result. Thanks to sovereign immunity, neither Mr. Gruber nor other Obamacare authors need worry about being prosecuted for fraud.
Obamacare was enacted before the president’s purported idealism became a laughingstock. Shortly before he signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, Mr. Obama told a University of Michigan audience: “When we don’t pay close attention to the decisions made by our leaders, when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day … that’s when democracy breaks down. That’s when power is abused.” Mr. Obama also declared that “we need an educated citizenry that values hard evidence and not just assertion.”
What we really need is a citizenry that recognizes that politicians are often far more devious than their friends in the media portray them. As comedian Lily Tomlin quipped, “No matter how cynical you become, it’s never enough to keep up.”
Mr. Obama sold his health care bill by promising dozens of times that people would be allowed to keep their doctor and health plans. Millions of insurance cancellation notices later, no one believes the president. The mainstream media was far more gullible on Obamacare than average voters. The administration’s slippery assertions were perennially reported as “hard evidence” when they should have been portrayed as political spin.
While Mr. Obama’s “best and brightest” have openly derided average Americans, it wasn’t “stupid” voters who built the Obamacare enrollment website that crashed and burned last year. It wasn’t “stupid” voters who vastly overestimated Obamacare enrollment. (The administration conceded Monday that enrollment in 2015 will be far less than forecast.) It wasn’t stupid voters who threw private health planning into chaos with a deluge of often senseless, politically motivated federal mandates.
The selling of Obamacare was uncannily similar to how President Franklin Roosevelt’s huckstering on Social Security. The Roosevelt administration railroaded the bill creating Social Security through Congress in 1935 by portraying it as an insurance program that gave citizens vested property rights akin to a private contract. However, in a 1937 Supreme Court brief, the Roosevelt administration confessed that Social Security “cannot be said to constitute a plan for compulsory insurance within the accepted meaning of the term insurance” and characterized Social Security as a “public charity” program under the “general welfare” clause of the Constitution.
The Brookings Institution’s Martha Derthick observed, “In the mythic construction begun in 1935 … Social Security was a vast enterprise of self-help in which government participation was almost incidental.” In 1979, Social Security Commissioner Stanford Ross conceded that “the mythology of Social Security contributed greatly to its success … Strictly speaking, the system was never intended to return to individuals what they paid.” When the feds default on Social Security payments promised to current and future generations, citizens will learn too late that 10,000 political promises are worth less than one wooden nickel.
Politicians do not have a divine right to deceive those they intend to benefit — or at least to control. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as retroactive self-government. Laws are not nullified after the exposure of the deceits that led to their enactment. Will the new Congress have the courage and wisdom to repeal Obamacare before it further ravages Americans’ freedom and health care?
James Bovard is the author of “Attention Deficit Democracy” (Palgrave, 2006) and “Lost Rights” (St. Martin’s, 1994).