Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Obamacare Architect Exposes Progressive Totalitarianism

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Jonathan Gruber-MSNBC

Jonathan Gruber-MSNBC

Professor Jonathan Gruber of MIT, who designed the Affordable Care Act, used to be the symbol of the Democrats’ technocratic bona fides, and an example of how big government with its “scientific” experts can solve social and economic problems from health care to a warming planet. Yet a recently publicized video of remarks he made at a panel in 2013, along with 2 other videos in the same vein, has now made him the poster child of the elitist progressives’ contempt for the American people, and their sacrifice of prudence and reason to raw political power.

In the video Gruber explains the spin and lies the Dems used to give cover to their Congressmen so they could vote for Obamacare. Especially important was avoiding the “t-word.” So, Gruber crows on the video, “This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure [the Congressional Budget Office] did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.” He also explained how the bills’ writers covered up the obvious redistributionist core of the legislation, which to work has to take money from the healthy young to pay for health care for the sick and old. “If you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in — you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed.”

Then this handsomely paid consultant to the “most transparent administration in history” revealed the foundational contempt progressives have for the “people” whose champions they claim to be: “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, really critical to getting the thing to pass.” As David Horowitz tweeted, “Progressive totalitarianism: We know what’s good for you and will lie, cheat and then compel you to agree with us.”

This modern version of the Platonic “guardians,” who possess superior knowledge but who must camouflage their tyrannical rule with lies, is now over 100 years old, and has become deeply embedded in our politics. It was the fundamental assumption of American Progressivism, which argued that modern technology and social change had rendered the old constitutional order a dangerous relic. The native common sense and wisdom of ordinary people to know their own interests and pursue them primarily at the local and state levels were now replaced by the allegedly scientific knowledge of “experts,” who alone could solve the problems created by the modern world. As Progressive Theodore Roosevelt said in 1901, the “very serious social problems” confronting the nation could no longer be solved by “the old laws, and the old customs,” especially the power given to state governments and laws, which “are no longer sufficient.” Woodrow Wilson agreed, complaining in 1913 that “the laws of this country have not kept up with the change” of economic and political circumstances. To achieve “social justice” and eliminate income inequality, the “laws,” particularly the Constitution, had to change.

But to effect such change, the old order of conflicting and balancing “passions and interests,” as James Madison described the political order, had to be transformed in order to create a more collectivist people united in their “collective purpose” to achieve a “vigorous social program,” particularly the redistribution of property. As Progressive Frank Johnson Goodnow wrote ominously in 1916, “Changed conditions . . . must bring in their train different conceptions of private rights if society is to be advantageously carried on.” Individual rights, especially property rights, “may become a menace when social rather than individual efficiency is the necessary prerequisite of progress. For social efficiency probably owes more to the common realization of social duties than to the general insistence on privileges based on individual private rights.”

In practical terms, these goals of “social efficiency” and “social duties” required more power centralized in the federal government and executive at the expense of the states and the people. The most important Progressive theorist, Herbert Croly, wrote in 1909, “Under existing conditions and simply as a matter of expediency, the national advance of the American democracy does demand an increasing amount of centralized action and responsibility.” Woodrow Wilson agreed, and envisioned a cadre of elites to address the national “cares and responsibilities which will require not a little wisdom, knowledge, and experience,” as he wrote in his 1887 essay “The Study of Administration.” As such, administrative power lies beyond politics, and should be insulated from the machinery of participatory government. And much like today’s progressives, Wilson’s ideas were based on contempt for the people who lack this specialized knowledge and so cannot be trusted with the power to run their own lives. Thus Wilson envisioned federal administrative bureaucracies “of skilled, economical administration” comprising the “hundred who are wise” empowered to guide the thousands who are “selfish, ignorant, timid, stubborn, or foolish.”

Sound familiar? From these early Progressive theorists to MIT Professor Gruber and the Democrats the line is direct, based on the same flawed and illiberal assumptions. The masses cannot be allowed, as envisioned by the Constitution, the autonomy to pursue their interests through local and state governments closest to them, their conflicts regulated by the balance of power, mixed government, and federalism, which prevent any one faction from amassing enough power to tyrannize the rest. Rather, administrative elites must be empowered to override those many interests in order to “solve problems” and achieve “social justice.” This in turn means growing the size and scope of the federal government into the bloated Leviathan it is today.

But as Wilson complained, “The bulk of mankind is rigidly unphilosophical, and nowadays the bulk of mankind votes.”  Since the citizens still have the vote and can exercise it every 2 years, they must be tricked into doing the “right thing,” as defined by the technocratic elite. One of the most chilling statements by an American president was made by Woodrow Wilson in his essay on administration: “Whoever would effect a change in modern constitutional government must first educate his fellow-citizens to want some change. That done, he must persuade them to want the particular change he wants. He must first make public opinion willing to listen and then see to it that it listen to the right things. He must stir it up to search for an opinion, and then manage to put the right opinion in its way.” What else has “income inequality,” “war on women,” “you didn’t build that,” and all the other slogans of this administration been other than the attempt to get the voters to “listen to the right things” and form a “right opinion”? Listen again to Wilson, from his essay “Leaders of Men”: “Only a very gross substance of concrete conception can make any impression on the minds of the masses; they must get their ideas very absolutely put, and are much readier to receive a half-truth which they can promptly understand than a whole truth which has too many sides to be seen all at once.” Is this not the spirit of Professor Gruber’s remarks on his “very clever basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter” in designing the Obamacare legislation?

The politics of today’s progressives all have their roots in the old Progressive assumptions––that enlightened elites know better than the people what is good for them, and that the people, being such unenlightened clods, need to be manipulated and lied to for their own good. Most important, the freedom and autonomy of the people must be limited by intrusive federal agencies and regulations in order for these utopian goals to be achieved.

Or to put it in other terms, this set of progressive beliefs––which we have seen acted on for the last six years by the president and practically every government agency––is totalitarian at its core. Not the brutal despotism of Italian fascism or Soviet communism or German Nazism, but Tocqueville’s “soft despotism,” the kinder, gentler Leviathan which undermines self-reliance and self-government by taking responsibility for the people’s comfort and happiness, and financing its largess by the redistribution of property. But no matter how comfortable in the short-term, such a condition is nothing other than servitude. And as Tocqueville warns, “No one will ever believe that a liberal, wise, and energetic government can spring from the suffrages of a subservient people.”

Copyright © 2014 FrontPage Magazine. All rights reserved.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

15 Thoughts on “Obamacare Architect Exposes Progressive Totalitarianism

  1. Theophilus on November 13, 2014 at 9:20 am said:

    The main problem with progressive elites is their arrogance in believing that their ways is the best and only way and to hell with anyone else ideas, especially if it comes from a higher source than man!

    The perceived right ways of these progressive elites appears utopian to them, but according to the biblical scriptures in Proverbs 14:12, it states that the perceived right way of man, is a way that often leads to them reaching their inescapable destiny – their demised!

  2. One of your best in a long time. It is extremely vital all spotlights be put on them and their ilk, both past and present, before memory fades and muddles of the scandals, criminality, abuse, and absolute contempt for all things they were voted to protect and represent.

  3. Proudly Unaffiliated on November 13, 2014 at 2:25 pm said:

    Excellent article!

    The weirdest thing is that the elites, the best and the brightest, cannot understand that they are no match for the massive parallel processing associated with the market which consists of all people.

    So they are smart, so what? They lose always and every time.

  4. If it is true that Western Enlightenment is based upon two main beliefs: a) There is one God (Judeo-Christian) and b) there is one civil society based on Western Enlightenment’s liberty of mutual dedication of self-restraint…. and if it is true that Progressivism is based upon two main beliefs: c) There is NO God (so, it’s okay to lie and lie and LIE!) and d) there is one society based upon removing the legs of Western Enlightenment’s society…

    Then, any citizen dealing with a Progressive leader will discover the leader will tell the truth when it suits that leader’s needs, but just as likely the leader will lie to citizens when it suits that leader’s needs… in essence the Progressive is a self-confessed pragmatist who will cheat, lie, steal, even kill, even mass murder (like the socialist Nazis enjoyed doing)… because, what the hey, there is No God! (they say.)

    What am I saying? Progressives, by definition, are not honest brokers… they cannot be, ever! Like Extreme Muslims, they use the vote to win once, then institute permanent vile entrapments that cannot be un-voted.

  5. anybody see this story on the mainstream media? if not for fox,talk radio,and the net who would know? all the phony talk of voter suppression ,yet I await the day, when the media suppression of stories,that proves the lefts utter disregard of reporting the truth, explodes! it will make last weeks election results, seem like a minor tremor.

  6. The unmasking of Gruber is a good thing, but he hasn’t been shy about his points of view – it’s taken alternative media, and a constant grumbling from the rational American to have his lunacy exposed for what it is. There’s nothing “soft” about despotism, in any form.

    As an aside, here in Vermont the house speaker recently floated the idea, post-election, of making voting compulsory, because his governor, Peter Shumlin, is about to have his assumed-to-be-next-term thrown into the legislature because he couldn’t muster 50% of the vote in an election everyone predicted he would win easily.

    Shumlin’s signature achievement? The spending of $100 million on a health care exchange that has been shut down for 2 months, and they are processing applications manually, by hand. The great social experiments, it seems, need just one more try, one more effort to do it “right this time” – in perpetuity. These ideas and the idiots who promulgate them need to find themselves chucked into the ashbin of history, a place where, had they bothered to read something other than press releases, they would have found 100 million dead from the 20th century begging them to please, stop. Stop. Stop pretending you know better than everybody else what’s good for them, and spending their money to reduce their freedoms, and their individual prosperity.

  7. Seems liberal elites and those that vote for them are engaged in an abusive relationship where the elites gain wealth, or office, off the backs of “the common man” and to assuage their own guilt they give them handouts as a token of their love, hoping that the “black eye” will be forgotten. The abuser is emboldened when he see’s that the abused forgive and forget when gifts are given. The abuse grows in severity requiring larger gifts of atonement, which is easy for the abuser as he’s taking it from others.

    It’s easy for liberals to project their “you didn’t build that” self loathing onto others as they themselves didn’t: labor for their wealth, win their election, or earn that Nobel prize. Roosevelt’s wealth wasn’t earned (not by him at least) his legacy has been grossly romanticized. Lies, lies and more lies win elections now. And when winning a Nobel peace prize is as effortless as our current president has shown it to be…it’s no wonder they believe a small business owner didn’t build that business. The latest peace prize winner made a braver stand against Al Queda than Mr. Obama…she even took a bullet.

  8. Robin Snyder on November 13, 2014 at 9:05 pm said:

    Mr. Thornton,
    From early essays to The Wages of Appeasement and now this piece, your material has become must-reading in our house and we thank you for your thoughtful, rigorous and original work. Have ordered and now received the copy of Democracy’s Dangers & Discontents.
    Regards,
    Robin

  9. Hans Bruenholzner on November 14, 2014 at 3:18 am said:

    Just to clarify, healthcare in Germany is not socialized nor is it free in the way your media presents it to the American people. Germans have two options; either public or private coverage but under our laws, German citizens must have health care insurance just like we have to have car insurance.

    Germany, like Switzerland, has a requirement by law, that requires all citizens to have health insurance which can be obtained from any one of 187 nonprofit insurers. It is closely supervised, but not run, by the government. The difference between public and private programs is that private insurers can generate a profit while government programs are non-profit. In either case, the government closely monitors the financial actions to enforce caps on costs, thus ensuring providers reduce costs while maintaining services. Of course not everyone is covered equally or receives the same benefits, because not all insurances are equal and all plans don’t all offer the same coverage. The analogy is simple, if you buy a Fiat Panda, don’t expect it to perform like a Mercedes AMG; you get what you pay for. It’s a pretty simple concept and everyone understands it.

    In a recent survey here in Germany, 84% of private insurance clients expressed satisfaction; so did 85% of those who rely on the public system. Germany spends $3,588 per capita, per year, or 10.4% of its GDP, on health care while U.S. spends $7,290 per person, 16% of economic output. And this difference is not because we have more old people; one in five Germans is 65 or older, compared with one in eight in the U.S.

    To be fair, we do have what you might consider a “social” health care system, but this is nearly identical to your Federal Medicare or Medicaid programs which are intended only for the elderly, the poor or unemployed. Only in these cases is healthcare provided for by State health program funded by income taxation.

    The problem isn’t so much the AHCA (although the way it was forced upon Americans is questionable at best) it’s your inability to control costs. The United States health care system is the most expensive in the world, and consistently underperforms relative to other countries on most dimensions of performance. Among the 11 nations studied in the Commonwealth Fund report published in 2014; “Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States—the U.S. ranks last, as it did in the 2010, 2007, 2006, and 2004. Most troubling, the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries and the U.S. is last or near last on dimensions of access, efficiency, and equity”.

    America must come to terms with providing competitive, government regulated health care for your citizens and get health-care costs under control.

    • J Carroll on November 14, 2014 at 3:37 pm said:

      A couple of questions: How do unemployed people in Germany pay for health insurance? Are people in Germany who don’t drive and don’t have a car required to have car insurance?

  10. Maybe Gruber got it right. Clearly, the American voter doesn’t know what’s ultimately in his or her’s best interest. They voted Obama into office and chose to re-elect him.

  11. J Carroll on November 14, 2014 at 9:45 am said:

    A parallel situation occurred in the black population during the 1890-1920 period. Booker T. Washington believed that ordinary blacks could and should advance by learning marketable skills and making themselves indispensable to society. He pushed for technical schools to provide the training and urged blacks to be self-reliant.

    Washington’s rival, W.E.B. Du Bois, felt that the black population needed to be led by the top 10%. He helped organize the NAACP in 1910. His emphasis was on social and political equality rather than individual improvement and self-reliance.

    Unfortunately, Washington’s vision triumphed and we now have an elite group of race hustlers that seem to do everything they can to keep a huge chunk of the black population ignorant and dependent on their leaders to extract handouts from the government.

  12. J Carroll on November 14, 2014 at 3:44 pm said:

    Edit:: Unfortunately, Dubois’ vision triumphed.

  13. sonoffar on November 15, 2014 at 2:56 am said:

    Just as distasteful as the Progressive foundation of: We know best and will do what is necessary to do best for you. Is the Populist notion that the masses are all knowing and always able to choose the best possible direction of the uncountable directions presented to them.
    Our form of government is a messy and potentially dangerous way to go. The “Founders”were painfully aware of this fact but believed, that the despite it’s inherent dangers of wrong choices, it was better to make the wrong choices and then learn from their results. We live in a time when Citizens are not willing to take the chances that our ancestors were required to take. The Citizen of today is perfectly willing to allow someone else to make the decisions of life so long as a modest comfort level is maintained.
    We get the government we demand. Whether it be a demand by force of arms for a limited representative government or a demand by nonparticipation for an all powerful and hopefully benevolent one.

  14. What I’ve never been able to figure out is why progressives such as Gruber would supposedly give a damn about the stupid masses in the first place. As the Gruber episode amply displays, they actually do not care. Rather, it’s a gratifying way for “smart people” to glory in their superiority. A narcissistic type of God complex with a particular nullifying shortcoming: God doesn’t have to lie.

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