November 12, 2014


Michael Kinsley once famously defined a gaffe as when a politician says what he or she truly believes (i.e., “a gaffe occurs not when a politician lies, but when he tells the truth”), a formulation so iconic that it is now known in the trade as a “Kinsley Gaffe.” A special subcategory of Kinsley Gaffe is becoming more common in these days of ubiquitous personal electronics: “accidentally telling the truth without knowing a camera or a tape recorder was running.” This is the category where we’d put Obama’s remarks about “bitter” working-class voters who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” and Mitt Romney’s complaint about “the 47 percent.”

Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of Obamacare, has now made two such gaffes: once, when he insisted it was ridiculous to think that anyone could ever have thought that subsidies would only be available on state exchanges, only to be confronted with one audio and one video clip of himself saying that very thing in 2012. And again yesterday, when footage surfaced of Gruber making some awkward remarks about the design of Obamacare at a an event a year ago in Philadelphia. . . .

This is undoubtedly true, and critics of the law have been saying as much for years. Nor is it only true of Obamacare. As Steve Teles of Johns Hopkins has been arguing for a while, the American system increasingly favors byzantine laws that do things in complicated, opaque ways rather than better, simpler, more transparent ways. We prefer 1,000 tax credits to a few direct subsidies, mandates rather than government provision, hidden costs rather than direct ones. Teles calls this “kludgeocracy,” and not in an affectionate way.

A good argument can be made that Obama has gone further down this road than most, in part because he favored big technocratic bills that aimed to do a lot of everything that experts and the party base wanted done, rather than simpler and more targeted initiatives.

The fact that we have a lousy media makes it worse.

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