Politics & Policy

Gruber Who?

Nancy Pelosi (Win McNamee/Getty)
Democrats do their best to erase their many links to Obamacare’s “Mr. Mandate.”

Jonathan Gruber? “I don’t know who he is,” Nancy Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.

To jog the former speaker’s memory: Jonathan Gruber is, of course, the MIT economist widely hailed for his work as the “architect” of Obamacare. His sudden demotion comes after video surfaced over the weekend of a 2013 interview with Gruber at the University of Pennsylvania, where he told listeners that a “lack of transparency” was crucial to passing Obamacare through Congress in 2010, given the “stupidity of the American voter.” Three more videos have followed, all showing Gruber making substantially similar remarks.

Nancy Pelosi’s ignorance of Gruber is odd for two reasons. First, she was speaker of the House at the time that the Affordable Care Act was passed. Second, she cited Gruber — by name — at a press conference in 2009: “I don’t know if you have seen Jonathan Gruber of MIT’s analysis. . . . ” Around the same time, his work was quoted and linked on her website.

In Pelosi’s defense, she may only have been following the lead of Maine senator Angus King, who told the hosts of Fox & Friends earlier this week, “I don’t know who this guy is.”

But it is difficult to imagine that either of these illustrious personages were unfamiliar with Gruber, particularly given that “the White House lent [Gruber] to Capitol Hill to help Congressional staff members draft the specifics of the legislation,” as John McCormack wrote in the New York Times in 2012, in an article in which he called Gruber “Mr. Mandate.” “Congressional staff members from both parties trusted him because he was seen as an econometric wonk, not a political agent.”

But “he didn’t help write our bill,” Pelosi declared Thursday. “So let’s put him aside.”

Ms. Pelosi and Mr. King are both getting up there in years, so perhaps we ought to be forgiving. Vox’s Sarah Kliff has no such excuse. “Jon Gruber, the health economist who pretty much wrote Obamacare, owns 8 parrots,” she tweeted in March 2012. Yet in a Gruber-related Q&A with herself at Vox on Thursday, Kliff asked: “What role did he play in developing the Affordable Care Act?” Her answer: “Mostly number-crunching.”

Of course.

Gruber’s comments have been much-remarked-upon, particularly on the right, not only for confirming what Obamacare critics have said for five years but also for capturing at least in part the ethos of modern progressive liberalism: smarter-than-thou zealotry masquerading as for-the-greater-good pragmatism. (That he did it at sound-bite length is simply an added perk.) But for a movement that touts its stratospheric intelligence, the response to Gruber’s comments from his longtime supporters, both on Capitol Hill and in the media, reminds observers of something else: that liberalism tends to handle its PR nightmares with an iron first.

Consider what is happening to Jonathan Gruber: In frantic damage control, many liberals have reflexively indulged their despotic inclinations and try to “disappear” him. The University of Pennsylvania pulled the original video of Gruber’s remarks from its website. No doubt if it were possible, Democratic staffers, Politburo-style, would be scrubbing him from photographs.

They can’t, of course. Within hours of Nancy Pelosi’s purported memory lapse, bloggers had unearthed her previous comments. Similarly with Kliff. An actual “memory hole” is notoriously difficult to come by.

But it is astonishing — is it not? — that the impulse of Pelosi and Kliff and others has been to suppose that they can comment on the matter as if it were tabula rasa, as if no one had heard of Jonathan Gruber, or that, if they had, they would allow Democrats’ pronouncements to pass unchallenged. How to account for that degree of arrogance? And if it is not arrogance, if they actually believe what they are saying and writing — how much more troubling.

Political actors are constantly at war over the past, because they know that it defines the present. Pelosi and her ilk, though, are not interested in discovering the past, but in controlling it — and in having the leisure to reshape it whenever convenient.

Who? Said what? Well, that was a long time ago, and, besides, it never happened anyway.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute

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