The Long, Slow March Into Tyranny

Townhall Magazine
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Posted: Jan 10, 2015 8:00 PM
The Long, Slow March Into Tyranny

When government bureaucrats are given this much power, it’s only natural they will end up holding the citizens with contempt. HotAir.com's Noah Rothman reports for the January issue of Townhall Magazine. 

If Obamacare architect, MIT professor, and health care policy wonk Jonathan Gruber didn’t exist, Republicans would have had to invent him.

In November, an anonymous investment adviser doing the work the mainstream press abdicated revealed that Gruber, a handsomely paid adviser to state and federal governments on health policy matters, had developed the bad habit of expressing his unvarnished thoughts openly and honestly.

“If you have a law that makes explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it wouldn’t have passed,” Gruber told an audience in 2013. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage and basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

It was just one of several Kinsley gaffes to which Gruber was apparently prone. “It’s a very clever, you know, basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter,” the self-satisfied policy adviser said the year prior. At a 2010 conference, Gruber advised economists to celebrate the successful “mislabeling” of the Affordable Care Act’s elimination of certain tax credits.

Democrats could not distance themselves from Gruber fast enough.

"I don't know who he is,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) insisted, despite having cited Gruber’s praise of the ACA in 2009. “He didn't help write our bill."

“I have to start with how fundamentally I disagree with his comments about the bill and about the American people,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said in an appearance on “Meet the Press.”

“The fact that an adviser who was never on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is not a reflection on the actual process that was run,” President Obama said. When asked if he had, as Gruber charged, signed a bill that was crafted deceptively in order to evade controversy and thwart the efforts of agencies like the CBO from accurately scoring it, Obama simply replied “No.”

“It's sad to me that good political journalists are spending so much time on these irrelevant comments by this guy Gruber,” wrote Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) in a remark nearly as condescending and contemptuous of the public as were Gruber’s.

And at first, most political journalists did not spend any time on Gruber’s remarks. Those liberal pundits who did address them at all were sympathetic.

“It’s true that the bill’s authors took steps to maximize its public appeal and minimize its vulnerabilities,” The New Republic’sBrian Beutler wrote in Gruber’s defense. “Everyone writing significant legislation does this.”

The New York Times reporter Neil Irwin agreed. “Mr. Gruber was, in an infelicitous way, expressing frustration with that state of affairs,” he wrote.

Some went a step further and said that Gruber was not only correct about the political conditions that necessitate legislative deception, but also of the general imbecility of the American people.

“Public opinion on health care policy is just completely incoherent,” the aspiring technocrat and New York Times opinion writer Josh Barro insisted. He added that the lack of coherence from the citizenry “puts politicians in a position where the only thing they can do to make the public happy is lie and, so, people lied.”

Like Gruber, these intellectually honest progressives embrace the noble lie. Their sympathy for deceit and corresponding scorn for the public are among the more ignoble conditions to which a public servant can succumb. Moreover, the instinct to mislead the public for its own good is spreading throughout the agencies tasked with managing the leviathan federal government.

Formerly the exclusive province of the FBI, The New York Times reported in November that at least 40 federal agencies are using covert tactics to protect the public from themselves. IRS agents masquerade as “accountants or drug dealers” to root out tax cheats. Agriculture Department agents disguise themselves as food stamp recipients to bust unethical local businesses. Education Department investigators infiltrate federally funded programs seeking out fraudsters. Medicare oversight managers check themselves into hospitals as patients or pose as doctors. Even minors tasked with finding a business willing to sell them alcohol or tobacco have been deployed by investigators.

The intentions of the above agencies are virtuous; they are exposing fraud and criminality and protecting the integrity of programs on which American tax dollars are spent. But is it wise to entrust these unresponsive executors of federal authority with such license, particularly given the bureaucratic class’ naked disdain for those whom they purport to serve?

On virtually every front, the focus of America’s non-representative agencies is increasingly on policing the public and enforcing unlegislated regulatory structures envisioned by bureaucrats. It is the inevitable course of an expanding, increasingly centralized government led by self-perceived elite who are tasked with prosecuting non-compliance. This is also a path that leads those nations toward despotism. If that seems a distant and unlikely prospect today, surely the same would have been said a generation ago of the Heinleinian surveillance state in which we currently live and the cynicism of the favored few who administer it.

Noah Rothman is associate editor of HotAir.com.