(Bloomberg View) — I support many Democratic policy positions and want to see them succeed. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), in particular, is a worthy endeavor: Despite the botched rollout and a great deal of unfinished business, I want to see it prevail. Sometimes, though, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at the incompetence Democrats bring to the task of selling their best ideas. The party, without a doubt, is its own worst enemy.
This is the heading under which I file Grubergate. In the protracted discussion of Jonathan Gruber’s comments about Obamacare and the stupidity of the U.S. electorate, his critics and apologists have missed the main point. This isn’t about the rights and wrongs of the health-care reform, or the mendacity or good faith of the Barack Obama administration; it’s about the Democrats’ worldview, and the party’s tireless capacity for offending potential supporters.
People have argued endlessly about whether the comments prove Obamacare was a deliberate deception of U.S. voters, or even about whether Gruber was or was not an architect of the reform — pointless semantic questions. It depends what you mean by “deception” and “architect.” Neither issue really matters.
Of course Gruber was deeply involved in the conception and design of the reform. And yes, in a certain sense, Obamacare’s advocates did deceive people about the law, by presenting it in what they judged to be the best possible light. How shocking of politicians and their advisers to do that.
Politics is about selling. In between brutal honesty about the full consequences of any particular policy and bald-faced lies about what’s intended is a wide zone of permissible salesmanship. As it happens, I think it would be good practice – - and good tactics as well — for politicians to be more forthright than they usually are about the costs and drawbacks of what they’re proposing. But the fact remains, all politicians accentuate the positive in what they’re advocating and distract attention from the disadvantages.
Here’s what counts about Gruber’s comments: His views on the stupidity of the American electorate express the party’s reflexive disdain for the very people it hopes (in all sincerity, by the way) to serve.
All salesmen sell — but some respect their customers, whereas others look down on them.
See also: All I want to do is sell.
Too many Democrats fall into the second camp, and too few of those are any good at disguising it. In this respect, Gruber, who calls himself a “card-carrying Democrat,” is typical of many in the party — and Democrats are different from Republicans. In their own way, to be sure, many Republicans also take a dim view of the citizenry. (Recall Romney’s 47 percent.) But the Democrats’ brand of disapproval has a particular quality that puts their party and its good ideas at a perpetual electoral disadvantage.