If you always expect the NY Times to bend over backwards to help Democrats in trouble, you’ll rarely be disappointed. Such is the case today with the NY Times coverage of the Jonathan Gruber affair.
Not surprisingly, the Times’ Neil Irwin has zero outrage to spare for a high-profile Obama adviser calling the American people stupid. Like at least one previous attempt to downplay what is obviously a very damaging admission, Irwin seems to want to say that conservatives are outraged but shouldn’t be.
looks like a shocking instance of a onetime Obama adviser saying that
the administration pulled the wool over America’s eyes in advancing
major legislation. That is certainly how many conservatives are interpreting it. But…
Normally in an argument like this the “but” would be the moment the writer turns the corner and explains why the assumptions in the previous paragraph are wrong. Irwin can’t actually do that here because what looks like “a shocking instance of a onetime Obama adviser saying that
the administration pulled the wool over America’s eyes,” is in fact a shocking instance of a onetime Obama adviser saying the administration pulled the wool over stupid America’s eyes. The thing that conservatives claim to see in the video tape is in fact what is there. That leaves Irwin with only one option, which is to claim it’s all much ado about nothing.
But here’s the dirty little secret: Mr. Gruber was exposing something
sordid yet completely commonplace about how Congress makes policy of all
types: Legislators frequently game policy to fit the sometimes
arbitrary conventions by which the Congressional Budget Office evaluates
laws and the public debates them.
There are at least three problems with this. First, legislators may often try to game the system, but few succeed at gaming it on such a massive scale with implications for every American. In terms of the import of this particular act of gaming, it’s unusually significant.
Second, it’s also rare for someone who succeeded in gaming the system to, well, give away the game like this. Irwin later calls Gruber “infelicitous” which is a hilariously Timesian way of excusing a major Democratic blunder as a minor faux pas.
If Gruber was merely infelicitous, then that suggests it was unusual for him to be so indelicate. But the evidence suggests otherwise. In fact, Gruber seems to have said this, or something like it, pretty often. Irwin claims Gruber is expressing frustration with the system as it exists, but is he? It sounds more like shameless pride at his own party’s cleverness to me, e.g. “It’s a very clever basic exploitation of the of the of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.” That sound like frustration to you?
Third, Gruber’s contemptuous treatment of the public is hardly isolated to himself. On the contrary, his comments are being taken by many as emblematic of the administration he has served and advised. Yesterday I listed about a dozen lies, big and small, that the Obama administration has told in the course of this process. Some are now well known, others less so (and my list was hardly complete). But contrary to what the NY Times is suggesting, Gruber is just the tip of this particular iceberg, the capstone on this particular pyramid of deception.
So while it’s true the attention to Gruber’s comments may appear disproportionate if considered in isolation, they really should not be considered in that way. His remarks are a lightning rod, inviting the release of a great deal of pent up public frustration. His statements seem to neatly sum up years of disrespect surrounding this issue, going back to the days when Nancy Pelosi was condescendingly telling us her party had to pass the bill so we would all learn to love it. Stupid Americans.
The public, at least a plurality of them if recent polls are any indication, seems to know or at least suspect that what Gruber said out loud is what many Democrats, up to and including the President, believe in private. If the NY Times wants to label that kind of contempt business as usual, far be it from me to stop them. But I don’t think it’s really helping their case at this moment.