MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, a leading architect of President Obama’s healthcare law, is under fire for recently surfaced comments in which he conceded that to pass Obamacare, supporters relied on “the stupidity of the American voter” to hide its actual effects.
My colleague Tim Carney has already written about how the comments are just the latest reminder of how the law was built on a foundation of lies. But there is a broader message in all of this — that Gruber’s comments get to the heart of what’s wrong with liberalism.
At the end of the day, liberals not only believe that they’re smarter than the public, but that they have a better sense of what’s good for the people than Americans themselves.
During the legislative debate over Obamacare, Gruber was frequently cited by liberal writers. He was portrayed as the numbers whiz who had all the stats and data to show that it was objectively the right policy. Opponents were portrayed as alternately stupid, dishonest or heartless.
Never mind that the law, among other things, raised rates on young and healthy individuals, forced individuals to purchase insurance, dictated to them what type of insurance they had to have, kicked them out of insurance that they may have liked, and resulted in plans with fewer choices of doctors and hospitals. The smart liberals have had an answer to all of these things.
As they tell it, young and healthy Americans will someday be old and sick; healthy individuals can sometimes suffer unexpected illnesses or accidents; the cheaper insurance they want to buy or want to keep isn’t as good for them as the more expensive insurance they will be forced to buy; and restricting access will contain costs.
It doesn’t stop with Obamacare, of course.
Liberals want to make Americans eat differently and to travel differently. They want taxes to be higher, because they think Americans waste their own money and that experts in government can spend it more wisely. They don’t believe that Americans should have more choice when it comes to saving for their retirement, because they think Americans are too stupid and irresponsible, so they’ll blow it. They don’t think that they should be able to have more choice over where to send their children to school.
Liberals don’t think that state and local governments should resolve most issues, because there are some states they think are dominated by dumb and unsophisticated people. So, to mitigate this, they support giving more power to the federal government, so that the smart people can impose their preferences on the whole country.
The truly pernicious part about liberalism is its successes breed more success. As more decisions are made for Americans by the central government, each generation grows up becoming more used to the government making decisions for them.
And this is why seizing control of the nation’s healthcare system is so crucial for the long-term goals of liberalism.
In a free society, people who have unhealthy habits — whether it's smoking, overeating or a lack of exercise — are no doubt increasing their odds of developing harmful diseases. But those choices are ultimately viewed as their own.
As government spends more and more on healthcare, however, it adds a social dimension to individual risk. Suddenly, that smoker — or person who can’t cut back on bacon cheeseburgers, Big Gulps, Cool Ranch Doritos, and brownie bombs — becomes a financial threat to the non-smoker who exercises regularly and lives off of veggies and lean protein.
Thus, the debate over Obamacare isn’t merely about the law as written. It’s about how it will change society in a way that will prompt more government control over people’s lives over time.
Gruber, in a moment of candor, acknowledged what has always been true about Obamacare and liberalism — that the masses have to be tricked into ceding control to those who know what’s best for them.