Gruberism And Our Democracy, Ctd

A reader writes:

The faux outrage you are drumming up is ridiculous.  People are ignorant because Gruber (and Bill Maher) are right: the American public is stupid.  All you have to do is look at Jimmy Kimmel’s skit about Obamacare vs the Affordable Care Act or “keep your government hands off my Medicare.” Why do the individual pieces of the ACA poll so well, but the overall law does not?  It makes no sense, and no the answer is not the Dems didn’t educate; the answer is people are too effing lazy to learn the truth and are too easily manipulated by nihilists and liars because they choose to remain uneducated.  The only thing stupid here was Gruber deciding to pull back the curtain; it would have been better keeping the rubes in the dark.

America should be run by elites. No, that does not mean rich or wealthy, but it does mean smarter and more knowledgeable.  It is beyond reason why I, as someone who takes pride in my thirst for knowledge (see reading your blog daily), have to deal with morons who are intellectually lazy yet have the ability to thwart basic and good things that would help me, people I care about, and worse, the people too stupid to understand they are actually being helped. I hate liberal paternalism as much as you do, but sometimes you just need to get shit done.

Another shares that disdain for most Americans’ intelligence:

I would say the fact that the elite journalists treat America as smarter than they are is a big problem. At this point, if the American people don’t understand Obamacare, it is on them. You have the following statistics coming from your gloriously under-appreciated smart public:

According to a survey by the Kaiser Foundation just last year (April), 42 percent of Americans didn’t even know Obamacare was still a law on the books. Some (12 percent) thought it was already repealed by Congress while others (7 percent) believe the Supreme Court overturned it. So why even lie about something that many likely still believe doesn’t exist in the first place? Here’s a few more fun yet disturbing findings to chew on:

– 65 percent can’t name a single Supreme Court justice (Annenberg Public Policy Center). Best part: 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol.

– 36 percent of Americans can’t name all three branches of government. Best part: 35 percent can’t name a single branch, period (Annenberg)

But I guess Obama holding a joint session of Congress to explain Obamacare while being called a liar in public is just him not explaining it right.

The point of messaging on this kind of thing is that it should be constant, clear and endlessly repeated. You can’t just give one big speech and expect people with busy lives to keep it in their heads. It can be done – and must be done if this democracy is to mean anything. Another is a bit more nuanced:

Voters are stupid.  I would have used the word irrational, but stupid gets the point across.  I’m stupid, you’re stupid, most everyone is stupid. One common example of the particular brand of stupidity that economists love to ridicule is loss aversion; if I gave you ten dollars then demanded five back, you would be much less happy then if I just gave you five dollars.  If you ask people if they’d rather have a mortgage rebate (free money for owning a house!), or a tax penalty for those people that do not own a home, there would be a pretty clear split.  But as long as the government’s books eventually balance, those are the same thing.

Gruber seemed to be saying that people respond irrationally to how things are phrased, so the ACA decided not to raise everyone’s taxes and then give people a rebate for having insurance, even though that would be completely equivalent to the mandate.  They also chose not to just tax healthy people and send checks to the less healthy, even though that would have some of the same effects as ending preexisting conditions.  You could argue that one way is more or less honest (personally I think the mandate makes sense to the extent that having insurance is a social obligation), but it’s fine to choose the way that most people are comfortable with.

Another reviews some recent history:

One point, somewhat cynical, that I see no one making about the Gruber statement is the fact that whatever misleading arguments were trotted out in support of the ACA while it was being debated in Congress, at least as many misleading arguments were proffered in opposition. The Politifact page for health care is illuminating on this subject, and a good refresher if you fail to recollect how disingenuous the campaign against the bill was.

There was all sorts of general talk about socialized medicine and a government takeover of a sixth of the American economy that is deeply misleading, much more so in my opinion than the esoteric debate over what is a tax and what is a mandate. But beyond generalizations, there were a number of VERY SPECIFIC claims made about the bill, from the notion that it contained “death panels” set up to deny care to elderly patients deemed no longer useful to society, to the assertion that abortions would be directly paid for by tax dollars in contravention of the Hyde Amendment, to Allen West’s bizarre claim that the health care law allowed the federal government to take over education. My favorite of course is the lie that the bill covered the healthcare of undocumented workers, so pervasive that President Obama had to reference and deny it in a speech to a joint session of Congress, only to have a Congressman, falsely, shout “You Lie!” on national television.

These statements did not come from policy experts not directly connected to the ACA or Congress. They came from elected representatives, party officials, and others who should be held to a much higher standard than Jonathen Gruber.

Look, I would have loved nothing more than to have an honest debate in this country about the benefits and trade-offs of the ACA. I would have loved to have had a serious discussion of alternatives, either the ephemeral conservative version or even actual, single-payer socialized medicine. I believe the country would have been much better served, and much less divided, by an honest assessment of the existing situation and exploration of various policy fixes, but that was just never, ever in the cards.

Since the opposition to the bill was ideological, rather than pragmatic, there was just no constructive discussion to be had. And you can’t have that kind of debate when only one side is engaged. You can’t have one side saying “LARGEST TAX INCREASE IN AMERICAN HISTORY” while the other side says, “well, technically not the largest, but in the top dozen or so, if you count the mandate, which isn’t quite right but probably fair, and hey, it’s not like you get nothing in return. Listen…” That’s just lousy politics.

So yes, the President and his allies, Gruber included, sold the best possible (self-serving) narrative to the American voter. This was at at times misleading. The most prominent examples are the “if you like it, you can keep it” fib and the repeated Gruber Gaffes, but in a political environment where much of the oxygen was spent debating ludicrous, unhinged assertions about jack-booted thugs, a sober cost-benefit analysis just wasn’t going to cut it, if the goal was to improve the lives of uninsured Americans, rather than winning on points in Debate Club.