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Thursday, November 20, 2014
Current Affairs ... Politics ...

Before I move on to “the real world”, let me offer one more ditty about the “opera buffa” that is the current political scene. As if writing an essay on recent political comedy is such a new and novel idea — wow, no one would ever have thought of that!

Anyway, let’s talk about the latest Tea Party-Republican dream come true. A man has stepped into the limelight almost as if ordered from Central Casting, to fill the role of the “Elitist Enemy of the People”. He’s an urbane, doctorate level, Harvard educated expert from the Northeast who designed a big-government program that President Obama and the Democrats rammed down the throats of a wary public. And now he’s been revealed to have clearly expressed his disdain for the unwashed masses that allegedly don’t know better, those who might not yet realize that he and Obama were chosen by destiny to pave the road to a better world. Yes, Jonathan Gruber, MIT Professor of Economics.

At first, I didn’t think that what Dr. Gruber had to say about the unsavory process by which the Affordable Health Care Act was hammered into existence within the unsanitary workshop of national politics was all that surprising or damaging. But then again, I am viewing Gruber through my own fairly educated, somewhat urban and elitist sunglasses. From the perspective of a working class family out in “the heartland”, trying to get by in a tough, unfriendly economy, resentful of some “un-American” force that has unfairly set a burdensome curse upon the lives of them and their neighbors, it is pretty bad. GOP politicians, Tea Party activists and talk radio hosts have primed these families to distrust people like Gruber (and they would probably probably distrust me too). Despite protests to the contrary by “elitist” East Coast journalists, l’affaire Gruber is politically damaging for the Democrats after all.

The Gruber “revelations” came mostly after the recent mid-term elections earlier this month, where “heartland” voters voiced their dismay about what Obama and experts like Gruber have offered them over the past 6 years. In a sense, the timing was lucky for the Democrats. Had “Grubergate” hit a few weeks earlier, the Democratic blood-letting could have become a full scale massacre; the Dems might have lost the Senatorial races in Virginia and New Hampshire and perhaps a few more close-call governorships such as in Colorado and Vermont(!). It looks like the GOP is using the Gruber videos to “keep the momentum going”, to get a head start on 2016.

The Nov. 4 Democratic wipe-out was clearly about Obamacare. The overall mood behind it no doubt also involved angst about the ebola crisis and the rise of ISIS in Iraq. But the underlying emotional logic is the same for all three subjects: dislike of a well-educated, elitist President who stuck firm to the liberal playbook, even after things started backfiring regarding his decisions on health care, public health threats and overseas military interventions. Obama’s alleged incompetence in real-world matters came shining through to middle-America, despite all of the President’s Harvard credentials and those of his brain-trust (including Gruber, despite the Petrine denials of Obama and Nancy Pelosi — you can hear that rooster crowing in the background).

Thoughts like that can become rather popular amidst those who don’t hold Ivy League degrees and are struggling to keep a job or to find one, while still paying all the family bills. As such, Grubergate does not bode well for Hillary Clinton in 2016. As I said in a recent post, Hillary is politically tied at the hip to Obama. Heck, she herself tried to foist a health care monstrosity-of-sorts on the public back in 1994. I was hopeful in my last post that perhaps there was some light at the end of the tunnel regarding public acceptance of Obamacare, acknowledgement that it is good for the country after all. A Pew Foundation poll showed that the disapproval margin over approval was down to 6% as I posted my essay. But a subsequent Gallup poll (taken just as the Gruber videos hit the news) showed it back up at 19%. The running average of polls has not shown any improvement trend since late 2009, bouncing mostly between 10 and 13% in the red. This to me is amazing given how much good that Obamacare has actually done over the past year. It’s obviously the perception and not the reality that is winning the day, politically. And the Gruber revelations just add more fuel to all those (mis) perceptions.

The only saving grace for Democrats is that Gruber is going to be old news by 2016, probably mostly forgotten. The hyper-24/7 news cycle is sometimes as much a blessing as a curse. Despite the fact that my optimism was a bit premature that the public is finally coming around on Obamacare, my other speculation regarding the potential positive effects for the Democrats of a continuing economic recovery and a revival of wage growth might be moving closer to daylight. A recent article in Bloomberg indicates that signs of wage growth are picking up in various sectors, and economists expect that a general wage increase tide will soon flow into the working sector. Although rising labor costs might put a drag on economic growth, the effect of cheap oil (now back down to about $75 per barrel) could provide a counter-stimulus that will keep the party going. Employed people with rising wages are much more likely to look kindly upon incumbent parties in big elections.

The 2016 fun is only beginning, however!

Dicta — Jonathan Gruber grew up in Ridgewood, NJ, about 7 miles from my home town. Not far in distance, but socio-economically in a different galaxy. Another interesting factoid: Mitt Romney and Gruber once got along rather well, as a recent video seems to indicate. Hmm, perhaps Romney is going to need to lay low for now regarding the rumors that he’s been thinking about getting back into the fray for 2016; at least until this blows over. (But by then, a whole lot of other Republican Governors and ex-Governors will have the jump on him; but hey Mitt, thanks anyway, it was an interesting thought!)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:18 pm      

  1. Jim, I’ve read this blog through twice and find myself still saying at the end of it, “Gruber-who?” or maybe it should be “who-Gruber?” It’s probably evidence of how behind the times I am or how I’ve given little attention to politics in the recent past year or so that I find myself unable to figure out who this guy is and why I should care about whether or not he cares about the “unwashed masses” who seem to be the rest of us, according to what you’ve said here. But maybe I’m just giving evidence again, as I said, of how little I know about the whole Obamacare process (the best I can do regarding Obamacare is a “hurray” for those who now have insurance where before they may not have had it) and who the movers and shakers in the political world are.

    I tend to find myself using myself as an indicator of what the rest of the nation likely thinks about politics and individual things that have their effects on the coming politics. And at this point, I tend to think that more people are concerned about the snow that has buried large portions of the nation, the early cold (altho it’s supposed to be a “warming” of the climate) covering large portions of the nation—which two points cover about most of the nation. Then there’s Ferguson and the fuss there. I find myself wondering if the people who live there ever heard of Martin Luther King; but then again, I may have my skewed and narrow view of that situation too.

    I also find myself somewhat overwhelmed by the individual problems of life that I find make me worry less about politics than I have in the past. Again, I wonder if I’m an indicator of the rest of the nation or if I just don’t know what’s actually going on around the world.

    I must say that actually being able to buy gas for my car at $3 a gallon the last time I bought it was very nice. If it stays that way, a Democratic vote will likely be an easy, quick decision for me.

    As to the tho’t that Romney should run again: I say, “surely, he jests”. He can’t be serious. Are there really some “out there” who think he would make it? Surely, they jest also.

    I think the mood of the nation is much more seriously taken up with the pounding it’s gotten from Mother Nature recently, with the return to the Middle Ages of the ISIS/ISIL group. The recent actions of that group are enough to have people wondering what planet they have come from. While it’s always the young people who are the ones who tend to think they’ve got the solutions to whatever ails society, and sometimes they do, sometimes they do not too. And the ISIL group simply has gone off the deep end, it seems to me, leaving people to hope that someone (Obama?) will do what seems best for the world and give them the same treatment bin Laden got, except for the fact that now they seem to be hiding among the innocent citizens at this point.

    At the rate the world and our nation (one wonders what all has been happening in other nations that we have not been aware of) have been hit by life’s troubles lately, I’m back to “Gruber-who?” again; and a tendency to have almost no interest in politics at this point.

    I say let the ones who think they want to actually run for office fight it out among themselves; then, let the people vote. As to “l’affaire Gruber” and whatever effect he had on Obamacare, I realize I’m definitely showing I’m of the unwashed masses. He’s got none of my attention—and as to politics itself at this moment, I say give it another good seven months and I may get up some energy to devote to politics—–which may be exactly how the rest of the unwashed masses may be feeling. It seems to me that in the last election it was the “unwashed masses” who decided who got to be president; otherwise, why was Romney giving his apologies to the contributors to his campaign the day after the last elections.

    It’s slightly less than a year before the next elections and in that time anything can happen and likely will—especially with all the serious things that are grabbing people’s attention currently. I’ll wait a while before I worry about next year’s election. And Gruber will have to go back to “Gruber-who?” when it comes to me.

    I guess on this point we simply have a different viewpoint. One thing I definitely know: I am not of the “elitist group” in any way, shape, or form; I’m definitely one of the “unwashed masses”. Perhaps that’s the real reason I can’t get myself worked up about this Gruber situation. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — November 21, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

  2. Mary, so now you HAVE heard of Jonathan Gruber, and know all about his controversial statements. That’s one of the benefits of reading my blog!

    Comment by Jim G — November 22, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

  3. “the nov 4 Democratic wipeout was clearly about Obamacare” – Really? Not according to WSJ – which did an article that stated it was a minor issue, and not according to a GOP pollster (see link)

    As you can see, I deliberately chose conservative sources for you, but of course, you can also find conservative sources (Limbaugh and Hannity come to mind) who would agree with you.

    Comment by Zreebs — November 24, 2014 @ 9:41 pm

  4. Interesting thought, Steve, thanks for your input. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that America is happy about OC yet. Latest polls: Rasmussen, negative 16. Quinnipiac, negative 14. And you’re probably right, Obamacare wasn’t necessarily the defining issue three weeks ago. It was more of a matter of an overall dislike of Obama’s policies and leadership style in general, of which OC is just one of many unpopular things. See e.g. USN&WR article.

    Thing is, though, Obama’s signature accomplishment was Obamacare. In the future, I believe that people will remember Obama for being the African American President, and as the federalized healthcare President. You can dislike Obama without disliking African-Americans (hopefully 99.9999% of people who don’t like Obama fall into that category), but it’s hard to dislike him without also disliking something about Obamacare.

    That’s my .02, and I very much appreciate your own throwing of intellectual pennies into the pot here.

    Comment by Jim G — November 25, 2014 @ 9:26 pm

  5. Jim, I went to and the first two polls I saw were Kaiser and Pew where Obamacare is down -9 and -6, but don’t forget that 22% believe that Obamacare didn’t go far enough, so even those numbers are potentially deceptive.

    I agree that most people who don’t like Obama wouldn’t like him anyway if he were a white man named O’Bama. But I recall a poll from maybe two years ago showed that a majority of GOP voters didn’t even think Obama was born in the US. So they wouldn’t even agree with your assumption that he is African American; they think he is Kenyan.

    A poll showed that 51% of voters who voted in 2012, but not in 2014 were Democrats. I assume the same thing happened in 2010 v 2008 when the GOP picked up 64 seats. So despite the 2010 vote, I don’t think that meant that Obama was that unpopular in 2010. And I don’t believe there currently is an “overall dislike of Obama’s policies and leadership style”, although I am not suggesting that Obama is popular either.

    Comment by Zreebs — November 27, 2014 @ 8:51 am

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