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Wonk Says Stupid Things; Conservatopia Goes Nuts

Lather, rinse, repeat. I'm going to tell you why this is baloney, and why it's going to be a huge topic at Thanksgiving dinner anyway.

An MIT Economics professor said a thing at a professional conference in 2013 that was a stupid thing to say in just about any public forum but made ever the more stupid by the fact that he said it about the Affordable Care Act.

And now it's a huge right wing blown-out-of-proportion thing that an MIT professor said and so it's all Obama and the Democrats' fault! I was informed by someone earlier that this could piss Chief Justice Roberts off enough to blow up the ACA with the King v. Burwell case because never mind what the damn law says if a wonk said a thing that was stupid.

Jonathan Gruber, one of the primary architects of the Affordable Care Act, said this about the ACA while speaking at an economics forum:

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. OK? So it's written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which said healthy people are going to pay in — you made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money — it would not have passed. OK? 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 get the thing to pass. Look, I wish ... we could make it all transparent, but I'd rather have this law than not.

If you suffered through the 2009-2010 achingly long process to get this thing from committee to the President's desk, you know what he's talking about there.

He's talking about this list, issued by Liberty Counsel on the day it was reported out of the House committtee. Within a couple of hours, that list had found its way onto many, many email lists and social media lit up with the some of the cherry-picked lies.

Like "death panels".

That "terrible, horrible living will" provision.


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"Illegals" will be covered.

"Government takeover" of health care.

"Medicare will be gutted!"

And so on. You remember, don't you?

Thus began the long, painful summer of 2009 that stretched into early 2010, resplendent with angry town halls and demonstrations that included armed militia members standing in full view. Finger-biting episodes and "you lie!" shouted during the State of the Union address.

To say the political environment was toxic would be an understatement, and that is what Gruber is referring to here. The mention of scoring the mandate as a tax referred to the politics of the thing, where there was full knowledge that calling it a tax would allow for the howls of right wing media to shout it down as raising taxes right in the middle of the Great Recession. We couldn't have Democrats raising taxes, now could we?

Risk-rated subsidies? There are no risk-rated subsidies, so I'm not really sure what he's talking about there, when the plan, as introduced by the House, was always to base subsidies on some multiplier of income levels based on federal poverty guidelines.

The larger point he was making was that the law was crafted in a toxic political environment that precluded transparency about specific, wonkish provisions. When you're battling myths about death panels and living wills, details get lost in the devilish whirlwhind of media hype.

Republicans don't really care about the wonkery anyway. They started out with a big push on how terrible and awful it was that Gruber celebrated 'lying,' but he didn't. The real issue here for them is that a professor at MIT called them stupid.

He's right. Anyone who would actually decide to hate a law that gives millions access to health care based on that idiotic list and the Betsy McCaughey nonsense that followed is the epitome of a stupid voter, or if you'd prefer a less elitist term, a Fox News viewer.

Still, people don't like being called stupid, and they don't like being called stupid when they're already pissed about a law they've been conditioned to be pissed about. Unfortunately, Gruber's remarks also play into the conservative trope that about elitist Democrats who are just university wonks and minorities. The good honest white folks are all Republicans. (Like I said, it's a trope, not a truth.)

So Gruber apologized, which he should have done. But it's too late, because there are at least three different instances where he called people stupid and the way it's clipped means we don't really have the full context for all of it, and ultimately, he did call them stupid. That's a fact no one can argue over.

But in the larger context...

This story is a shining example of the Fox Effect. I was alerted to the video when the Koch-funded group American Commitment tweeted it to me and asked for comment. I shrugged and said I wanted context, which was never provided.

The official story goes like this. Your everyday Philadelphia investment adviser by the name of Rich Weinstein happened upon these videos from 2013 and watched them. Then he started tweeting about it and American Commitment posted the video to their YouTube channel. Fox News picked it up, and they were off and running.

In the end, this is a sophisticated game of working the refs. Supreme Court justices don't operate in vacuums. While we have people who could be seriously harmed if the ACA were gutted posting op-eds in the Washington Post, we have American Commitment blowing up a video of the so-called Obamacare architect saying a thing which is inflaming conservatives around the country.

They hope one will be ignored in favor of the other. Truth is, neither should be given weight by the Supreme Court. The only thing they should really care about is how the law reads.

But here's what's going to happen if they do gut it. Pay attention, Republicans and conservatives, because this is my ultimatum right here.

If you are successful at gutting the Affordable Care Act via the United States Supreme Court, I will expect you to immediately pass Medicare for All to prevent millions of people from losing their access to health care. I don't really care who gets the credit for it. If you want to win this battle, you either surrender to the ACA or get on it and pass Medicare for all.

Those are the only two options. Nothing else will be adequate. If you gut the ACA and leave my family hanging out in the wind, I will personally spend every minute of every day of the rest of my life making sure I can make as many Republicans as miserable as humanly possible.

That's a promise.

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