What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
Every Republican newly elected to the U.S. Senate shares at least one thing in common: they each campaigned on repealing the Affordable Care Act.
As Americans all across the political spectrum prepare for a fresh round of debate regarding this controversial policy reform, it’s important to pause and address how it was adopted in the first place.
If we’re to believe one of its creators, “ObamaCare” came into existence only because of “the stupidity of the American voter.” Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist and chief architect of the law, admitted last year to a friendly audience that it “was written in a tortured way” to dodge legislative obstacles, and that “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage” that “was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”
Let’s take Gruber at his word—that the success of the president’s signature policy proposal was predicated on ignorance and obfuscation. One must conclude from his explanation that the Obama administration relied upon—and helped to maintain—the electorate’s alleged stupidity; in the eyes of a politician, an ignorant populace is a malleable one. “Great is truth,” wrote the dystopian author Aldous Huxley, “but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.”
This ignorance was fostered through a number of false claims made both before and after ObamaCare’s passage. The president promised Americans that, “If you like your health care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health care plan, period.” Families were told that their premiums would be lowered “up to $2,500 for a typical family per year.” Those who already had insurance were pacified by being told that their “only impact is that their insurance is stronger, better and more secure than it was before. Full stop. That’s it. They don’t have to worry about anything else.”
Whether it be through omission of truth or outright lies such as these, designed to neutralize the opposition, politicians routinely keep the public in the dark and thus unable to mount a defense and oppose policies (or politicians) to which they object. Without the ability to recognize and respond to observable problems, an ignorant public must rely upon what Christopher Guzelian, a legal theorist, calls “risk communication”—the (often false) information conveyed to them by politicians and the media describing what threats exist, how scared they should be, and what measures they should support in response.
A policy predicated on deception and ignorance is ripe for repeal, but as the new Republican majority begins to agitate for reform, they should emphatically reject the tools and tactics used by Gruber and his associates by legislating, at a minimum, according to these three core principles:
First, transparency. Barack Obama campaigned on this promise, and has miserably failed. While Gruber was correct to note that a “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” Republicans should repudiate this tactic and take the higher road by holding open meetings, providing draft text of legislation well in advance of a vote, including their political opponents in all relevant discussions, and being forthcoming, honest, and sincere with their constituents throughout the entire process. This alone would be a breath of fresh air, and perhaps increase their single digit approval rating.
Second, simplicity. The Affordable Care Act is 381,517 words long—86.7 times longer than the U.S. Constitution and twice as long as the New Testament. “It will be of little avail to the people,” wrote James Madison, “that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.” Republicans should commit to simple legislation and simple explanations, treating the American people as their equals—nay, employers—rather than uneducated underlings unable to comprehend congressional complexity, whether intentionally “tortured” or not.
Finally, publicity. If Americans are uniformed on a policy being proposed by congressional Republicans, then they should commit to proactively educating the public, using any and all means possible—and with substance, not sound bytes. A voter’s supposed “stupidity” should be seen as detrimental, rather than politically advantageous.
Republicans have been given an opportunity that they should not squander. Earning the public’s trust, and attempting to reverse course, will require more than talking points and tweaking policy—systemic changes are needed. A new Senate majority now exists for the Republicans in large measure because of bold promises made to the public. We now wait to see if we’ve been lied to once again.