Haughty. Condescending. Pernicious.
Everything that the right already believes about President Barack Obama, MIT professor Jonathan Gruber embodied in his recently revealed comments on the “stupidity of the American voter” and the “lack of transparency” in the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Now he’ll be back center-stage on Tuesday to testify at the House Oversight Committee, expected to face a classic Hill grilling.
Gruber-mania has gripped the conservative mediasphere in a way that few stories have, becoming another brand-name controversy like Benghazi and the IRS. An academic who had been little known outside of Washington or Boston has been mentioned nearly 2,800 times in English-language news since news of the most recent video broke last month. Prior to that, across a career that spanned decades and after playing an important role in Massachusetts and national health care reform, he’d been named less than 1,000 times, according to a TPM LexisNexis search.
The first video made the biggest splash, but every clip in the month since — there have now been seven, dwindling to decidedly less sexy subjects like the law’s Cadillac tax — has earned top billing on conservative mainstays like Fox News and the Daily Caller, with some helpful priming from the Drudge Report. The second video, in which Gruber said American voters were “too stupid” to understand the law, was rolled out on Megyn Kelly’s primetime Fox News show Nov 11.
The larger meaning was baked into Gruber-gate — there is a hashtag and Gruber can now be used as a verb — almost immediately.
“There you go, America. That is what the Democrat Party thinks of you,” Rush Limbaugh said on Nov. 10, as the controversy started to bubble into a national story.
But that wasn’t just the take from insular conservative talk radio. The Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein, who is one of the more fair-minded writers on the right, expounded on that theme in a Nov. 12 column on the Gruber videos.
“At the end of the day, liberals not only believe that they’re smarter than the public,” Klein wrote, “but that they have a better sense of what’s good for the people than Americans themselves.”
The apoplexy among conservatives can be difficult to measure, but PolitiFact took a stab at it about a week after the story broke. Gruber had been mentioned 779 times on Fox News after the “stupidity of the American voter” video leaked, versus 79 mentions on MSNBC and 27 mentions. And of course, the less robust coverage from the other outlets became another subplot among conservatives, though some liberal commentators did seriously grapple with what to make of Gruber’s comments.
Every other story could invoke Gruber, too. Obama’s pledged executive action on immigration? Newsbusters was on it:
And Jonathan Gruber, who confesses that the Obama administration deliberately sold its program by lying about it, has now been tied to supplying data on health care for those illegal immigrants. Illegal immigrants who would instantly become beneficiaries of the very same ACA once granted amnesty — exactly as Obama HHS Secretary Burwell said was the goal.
“Were they ‘Gruber-ing,’ thinking Americans were dumb enough to believe anything?” Fox News host Greg Gutfield asked rhetorically last month after the House Intelligence Committee found no wrongdoing by the administration. “Or did they truly believe Islamists weren’t at fault and that a video was to blame? If so, to blame physical evil on words or art scares me.”
The implications could not be grander, as the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg explained in — where else? — a Fox News appearance.
“In a lot of ways, this spectacle represents not just everything’s that’s wrong with the Obama administration,” he said. “It’s everything wrong with liberalism and a lot that’s wrong with America itself.”
While conservatives fixate on Gruber, Democrats have been fleeing from a man who played a crucial role during the ACA’s drafting and had been one of its most vocal, if frank, supporters, making him a frequent source for reporters (including TPM’s).
A top Obama administration official reportedly doesn’t want to sit by Gruber when they both testify before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday. The White House and Obama himself distanced themselves in public statements. Top progressives downplayed his role in Obamacare’s crafting in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) even went so far as to insinuate that she hadn’t even heard of the guy.
“I don’t know who he is,” she said. “He didn’t help write our bill.”
Now a month later, Gruber is set to re-take the news cycle when he testifies Tuesday. Politico magazine published a lengthy and well-reported profile in anticipation of the hearing. Breitbart News was trotting out Sunday some new revelations about Gruber’s writings on abortion.
And America’s No. 1 news source was greasing the wheels Monday morning.
“Will Gruber doom Obamacare? … I don’t see how it goes well when you play the clips and you get him to respond. Then you have this firing squad that’s ready to tee off on him,” one of the hosts of America’s Newsroom said on Fox News. “What is the state of Obamacare then?