by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine
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.”
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