Jonathan Gruber’s Self-Immolation and Its Policy Consequences

Jonathan Gruber is utterly and completely destroying himself, and is providing massive amounts of ammunition to anti-Obamacare forces. Neat trick, especially considering the fact that he got paid nearly half a million dollars in order to both design Obamacare, and also sell it to the masses. Consider the latest video that has come out regarding Gruber’s . . . er . . . candid comments:

A third video emerged Wednesday of MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, insulting voters and suggesting their ignorance was exploited by those pushing passage of the health care law.

Neither the White House nor Gruber would comment.

In this one, Gruber was discussing how then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, pushed forward a way to add a tax on expensive health insurance plans, or “Cadillac Plans,” that would purportedly tax the insurance companies though Gruber suggests everyone knew the companies would just pass on the additional cost to customers.

“It’s a very clever, you know, basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter,” Gruber said at the Honors Colloquium 2012 at the University of Rhode Island.

The moment is at about 29:25 in this video. The video was first reported by The Daily Caller.

Over the weekend, media first became aware of a video of Gruber making a similar remark — that the unintelligent voters were hoodwinked by those pushing passage of Obamacare, which was in his view for the good.

That video, from the University of Pennsylvania in 2013 (which you can see here) featured Gruber saying, “If you had a law which said healthy people are going to pay in — if you made it explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed, OK? Just like how people — transparent — lack of transparency is a huge advantage. And basically, you know, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

To say that this entire episode is a complete disaster for Gruber’s reputation and for the pro-Obamacare side is to understate matters. Ian Tuttle:

When a different economist, Thomas Sowell, quipped that “the road to Hell is paved with Ivy League degrees,” he spoke more truth than he realized. Indeed, smart people often have bad policy ideas. But Hell is not about mistakes; it’s about sins. And despite its pragmatic, do-what-works rhetoric, the progressive Left is convinced not only of its own intellectual superiority but of its accompanying moral superiority. Among progressives, stupidity is sin.

Gruber’s comments are a perfect illustration of this belief. The “stupidity of the American voter,” of which he is obviously disdainful, is not an ignorance of facts. If Obamacare proponents had believed that was the case, they would simply have sought to explain the legislation, trusting that more information would be persuasive. The obfuscation in which they engaged would not have been necessary.

No, Obamacare proponents were certain that Americans could not be persuaded, no matter how much information they absorbed. The voters were incapable of recognizing that Obamacare was in their own best interests — or, to put it another way, they were (and remain) morally deficient, a failing impervious to reasoned argument. Their stupidity was a sin, against themselves and each other. Gruber and company were the messiahs they did not know they needed.

Avik Roy:

On Tuesday, it came out that MIT economist Jonathan Gruber—Obamacare’s architect—had said that he and his Democratic colleagues had concealed the health law’s true costs from the public in order to take advantage of the “stupidity of the American voter” and pass the bill. Gruber then went on MSNBC and claimed that his comments were “off the cuff” and should be disregarded. But two new videos have emerged: one in which he says that “Americans were too stupid to understand” Obamacare’s main tax hike, and another in which he boasts of Obamacare’s “exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.”

It’s clear from these videos that Gruber’s cracks about the intelligence of the American voter weren’t a spontaneous “off the cuff” outburst, but rather a regular punch line in his stump speech to audiences around the country. The first video is from a panel discussion at the University of Pennsylvania in October 2013; the second from another October 2013 event at Washington University in St. Louis; the third from a lecture at the University of Rhode Island on November 1, 2012, just before the presidential election of that year.

The most important part of that excerpt is, of course, the first sentence of the second paragraph. Remember that when Jonathan Gruber makes apologies regarding his comments, he is not apologizing for the fact that he made them. He is just sorry that he got caught. The distinction is crucial.

Ron Fournier:

“Those comments have struck a nerve on the right,” wrote Jose A. DelReal (emphasis added), “with some of the law’s critics pointing to Gruber’s comments as evidence that the administration intentionally deceived the American public on the costs of the programs.”

My first reaction was, “No! No! Not just on the right!” I strongly support bipartisan efforts to expand the availability of health coverage to the working poor, and bending the cost curve that threatens federal budgets for years to come. While I think President Obama and congressional Democrats helped contribute to the 2009 standoff over what became the Affordable Care Act, I’ve openly rooted for Obamacare’s success. I’ve denounced the knee-jerk opposition from the GOP, a party that once embraced key elements of Obamacare. My ideology is amorphous; I am not “on the right.”

All of that, and yet: Gruber’s remarks struck a nerve with me.

[. . .]

He called you stupid. He admitted that the White House lied to you. Its officials lied to all of us—Republicans, Democrats, and independents; rich and poor; white and brown; men and women.

Liberals should be the angriest. Not only were they personally deceived, but the administration’s dishonest approach to health care reform has helped make Obamacare unpopular while undermining the public’s faith in an activist government. A double blow to progressives.

On top of that, Gruber has helped make the legal case for anti-Obamacare lawyers. In July, a year-old video surfaced in which Gruber said Washington legally withholds money from states that don’t create their own health care exchanges. That could be construed by the Supreme Court to buttress the case against health insurance subsidies.

Well put. Of course, most liberals don’t appear to be angry as a result of Gruber’s comments. To be sure, they would be angry if the comments came from the starboard side of the political divide, but since it comes from their side . . . well . . . outrage takes a back seat to trying to bury the story by not talking about it.

Hearings are being discussed. And why shouldn’t they be? Contrary to the beliefs of some, the Bush administration never lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But the Obama administration lied a lot about Obamacare, and the chief architect of Obamacare boasted about how successful all of the lying was.

6 Replies to “Jonathan Gruber’s Self-Immolation and Its Policy Consequences”

  1. I am not certain what Gruber’s sin was.

    Oh, I am completely outraged that politicians lie to us but that is the system we have set up. What precisely did Gruber do that was sinful?

    You’re a lawyer, do you think politicians, lawyers, and academics of all stripes don’t exploit the weaknesses they see in the system to advance their agenda all of the time, even when they have sworn to uphold that system?

    The only thing I think he did that was “wrong” was to speak truthfully about what he and the Obama administration did. In many ways though, that was a good thing for him to do that. Revealing how the sausage was made is a good thing.

    His sin seems only to have been two things:

    1) Being too stupid himself to keep his trap shut and keep the politician code of omerta
    2) Hubris by saying these things not in a bar or in a academic piece 10 years down the line, but speaking of it proudly at a time when his baby was still breastfeeding.

    But honestly, anyone who thinks that what Gruber did was wrong, needs to state what he did they think was wrong, and why we pay lawyers to do precisely what Gruber did.

    1. There is nothing I see in the system that we have set up that encourages politicians to lie anymore than politicians who operate in other systems. Moreover, when we elect politicians and repose trust in them, we demand that they not betray that trust, and we also demand that they appoint people who will not betray that trust. Lawyers are surely zealous advocates for their clients, but their first duty is to be honest and truthful officers of the court. If they violate that duty, they are subject to sanctions and/or disbarment.

      To be sure, Gruber embarrassed a lot of people with his comments, but those comments are notable because they reveal that the Obama administration and its allies lied during the campaign to pass Obamacare. Those lies were of the magnitude that the alleged lies about WMDs were–except that the Bush administration did not lie about WMDs. I find that to be quite the appalling and disgusting revelation. And apparently, so do a host of other people. And with good reason.

      1. Thank you for responding. I guess will disagree on this. We have a complex system with screwed up incentives, so “tax” is a death name, but “individual mandate” is not. I don’t see that what Gruber did was anything beyond “spin” that I’ve seen many people, fine upstanding lawyers included, ethically, engage in everyday for their clients.

        FWIW, I am generally supportive of Obamacare, though I take my lead on its various legal issues mostly from people like Jonathan Turley and even the Volokh Conspiracy.

        That said, I still see Gruber’s mistake as mostly being honest in the wrong venue, but it’s an honesty and transparency I would honestly like to see more politicians and lawyers (and engineers and scientists and doctors and bureaucrats, …) engage in.

        1. Gruber’s “mistake” and his “sin” were 2 different things. His mistake was blabbing the truth in these three separate instances (and god knows how many others). His sin was to participate in a fraud with a group of liars and other frauds to lie to American voters in service of legislation that was deliberately convoluted and opaque. I’m not clear why you have such a problem understanding that. And if you don’t have a problem with that fraud, please tell me you are not in a position of authority?

  2. The first job of an economist is to explain to his students and fellow citizens the true costs of our actions and who really pays those costs. Gruber sold his soul to the devil, went over to “the Dark Side of the Force,” however you want to say it, he betrayed his profession. Was it for money? I doubt it, though he was certainly well paid. It was for power.

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