From The Weekly Standard, Liars Remorse by Wiliam Voegeli


The gullibility of the millions of Americans who have been helped by Obama-care, but can be led to believe it’s harmful, goes without saying. Such sentiments confirm that today’s Democrats are only quasi-democratic. They’re adamant about government of and for the people, but dubious when it comes to government by the people. Yes, they say, government must intervene in the economic and social spheres to do what’s good for the people, but the people are often too limited to understand what’s good for them and too ungrateful to appreciate the benefactions government is already delivering.

The voters’ cognitive deficiencies are a retrospective problem for Democrats, as Tomasky and Hiltzik point out, but also a prospective one. They mean that new government interventions cannot be secured through candor and clarity, but require guile and subterfuge, a position made clear by MIT economics professor and Obama administration adviser Jonathan Gruber. Explaining, in 2012, why the Affordable Care Act taxes insurance companies, which will pass along the costs to policyholders, rather than taxing the insured directly, Gruber said, “It’s a very clever, you know, basic exploitation of the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.”

In 2013 he told a University of Pennsylvania audience that the ACA “was written in a tortured way” so that neither the Congressional Budget Office nor the public would see its individual mandate to buy heath insurance as a new tax. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Gruber concluded. “Call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

If Democrats were forthright and respectful they would have enough confidence in their proposals and their countrymen to speak plainly. They would say: “We’re not idiots; you’re not idiots; and only an idiot could believe it’s possible for government to do big things that help lots of people without also imposing big costs, through taxes and regulations, that adversely affect lots of people. The reason you should support the Democratic agenda is not that we’re magicians who can make something out of nothing. It’s that the benefits of our programs will exceed their costs—so much so that our country and most of our citizens will be better off paying the higher taxes and complying with the more stringent regulations than we would be absent the taxes, the regulations, and the benefits they make possible.”

What’s changed is that a growing portion of the electorate has come to suspect that the Democrats, while still the party of government in the sense of advocating government intervention as the solution for many, many problems, has become the party of government in other, more disquieting ways. It seems strongly committed to the idea that government should do more, but not that it should do it well. The party of government demands more responsibilities for government, but can’t or won’t demand consistently high performance from government.

President Obama has acknowledged this problem but, again, at a high level of abstraction. “The question .  .  . is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works,” he said in his first Inaugural Address. “Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day.”

But no programs have ended since January 2009. Is it because all of them work? After Presidents Carter and Clinton, Obama has led the third Democratic administration entrusted with operating and improving the megastate for which Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson are largely responsible. All three devoted rhetoric to making it work efficiently and responsively. Carter hailed the transformative power of sunset laws and zero-based budgeting. In 1993 Clinton promised to redesign, reinvent, and reinvigorate the entire national government. In 2011 Obama promised to “merge, consolidate, and reorganize” it, so government would be more affordable, competent, and efficient.

After all these improvements, it should have been easy for the party of government to refute political scientist Steven Teles, who argued in 2013, “America has chosen to govern itself through more indirect and incoherent policy mechanisms than can be found in any comparable country.” Democrats would have cited endless instances of successful programs and consequential reforms that belied Teles’s contention that “sluggish administration, blame-shifting, and unintended consequences” were pervasive problems. But they didn’t. And their silence suggests they couldn’t.