Professor Gruber And The Progressive Dream Team

Bill Frezza Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
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Nothing makes the nation’s political class more discomfited than when one of its own is caught speaking the truth. As l’affaire Gruber shows, were it not for the ubiquity of cheap video recording, the power of modern search engines, and the tenacity of citizen journalists, conspiratorial guidance spoken in private would remain private, safe from the prying eyes of the public. Gone are the days when the legacy media might be counted on to serve up smoking gun evidence of lies and deceit used to turn one sixth of our economy over to government central planners.

The tortuous passage of the inappropriately named Affordable Care Act was shepherded through Congress thanks to a phalanx of lies now being revealed. One of the legislation’s key architects, MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber, has been on the stump for years earning hefty fees promoting the eponymous Gruber Microsimulation Model upon which claims of the Act’s economic sustainability were based. Problem is, honesty got the better of him, lecturing his colleagues on how the whole program was a carefully crafted exercise in deception.

It’s not the duplicity that’s news here. Lying to the electorate is a long-established tradition of both our major political parties. What’s new is the chortling professor’s gleeful disdain for “the stupidity of the American voter,” whom he is proud to have deceived because “I’d rather have this law than not.”

Of course, this raises some uncomfortable questions.

First, are Americans voters really stupid? The caliber of politicians they keep sending to Washington suggests as much. But they certainly possess more common sense than social engineers like Gruber, who curry politicians’ favor by providing them intellectual cover for the latest scheme to turn us all into wards of the state or milch cows thereof.

Second, do voters like being lied to? When experts proclaim money grows on trees and prosperity can be had by printing more of it, they never lack an eager audience. And when one Washington program after another fails miserably — from the War on Poverty to the War on Drugs to the War on Terrorism — a majority of American’s seem to accept the proposition that all will be well if politicians are given the power to do more of what is not working.

So could Jonathan Gruber be right? The public regularly swallows the most preposterous lies provided they are repeated frequently, endorsed by the right Hollywood celebrities, and affirmed by a compliant media. While the good professor may be temporarily embarrassed by all the attention, you can be sure his standing among progressives will not diminish one iota. After all, his blatant scheme worked, making Obamacare the law of the land.

And therein lies the left’s real victory. Yes, the Democrats suffered crushing losses these past midterm elections. But temporary electoral setbacks mean nothing in the long game progressives have been playing since Woodrow Wilson took the White House. Once an entitlement becomes entrenched it is sure to generate another constituency bent on voting itself free stuff — and woe unto any office holder who tries to kick them off the gravy train. Otto von Bismarck knew exactly what he was doing when he invented Social Security, giving us the pay-as-you-go scheme that has become the standard model for government “insurance” programs across the developed world.

And so consider this possibility. Rather than shy away from this controversy, hard core Democrats may double down on it, regroup, reframe, and repeat. With Minority Leader-elect Harry Reid elevating Senator Elizabeth Warren to a new position in the party leadership, we can expect a fresh flurry of progressive sound bites to convince us that, yes, we can have our cake and eat it too — just take it out of the hide of the wicked one percent. Now imagine combining Warren’s demagogic and fundraising skills with Gruber’s proven track record in obfuscation, misdirection, and ivory tower economic planning.

Warren and Gruber in 2016. If a ticket like that doesn’t get you out to vote, nothing will.

Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the host of RealClear Radio Hour.