Have you ever heard the expression "high IQ, low EQ?" It refers to someone who is intellectually smart, but emotionally dumb.
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That sums up Jonathan Gruber’s problem. No one doubts this MIT Economics Professor’s brilliance. He just wasn’t exactly Mensa material when it came to matters of the heart. Big brain. Zero feeling.
That doesn’t mean Gruber wasn’t very effective advising early ObamaCare backers over how to sell the controversial law. But what he was doing was telling them how to essentially lie about the law, or at least the true intent of the law.
So on the facts, Gruber got it right. It was a tough sell. He just found a different way to sell it; not by misstating the facts, but not stating the more alarming facts. For example, he knew early on, as did many of the Affordable Care Act’s backers, that you couldn’t offer insurance for everyone “and” cover pre-existing conditions “and” keep your kids on your policy until they’re close to pushing 30, and not end up facing higher premiums as a result.
The old adage applies -- if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And this reporter -- no Mensa member himself by any means -- quickly surmised that much. But Gruber was paid millions as a consultant not to misrepresent the future law but focus on its positives and essentially hope no one caught on to the math behind it.
And on that aspect, he was brilliant. He craftily deflected the numbers that didn’t support the gargantuan government overhaul of our healthcare system by instead focusing on the benefits of that government overhaul. Who wouldn't support coverage for pre-existing conditions? Who wouldn't support keeping your kids on your policy longer to help them out? And who wouldn't support providing coverage for those who couldn’t afford it and shouldn’t be made destitute because of it?
So Gruber and the administration and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and everyone else involved in the big sell of big healthcare, sold the sizzle, and preferred to dance around the substance. What made Gruber’s sins stand out is that he was caught on tape doing so -- even guiding the law’s marketers around the “stupidity of the American people.”
What he said was offensive; every bit as offensive as Mitt Romney famously dismissing the 47% of Americans he said would never vote for him because they pay no federal income taxes, and wouldn’t likely support a candidate who didn’t support that, or by extension, them.
But even allowing for what Romney famously admitted to me was “inelegant phrasing,” the damage could have been worse. Yes, he did lose the presidential election, but other matters torpedoed him because in the end Americans still “kind of” liked him.
Not so Gruber, who comes off as a distant, condescending jerk. I’ve interviewed him a number of times and I don’t think that description is fair, but he’s now come across that way -- dismissive of Americans’ in general and their genuine healthcare concerns specifically. By assuming they were and are too dumb to work through the weeds, Gruber essentially told healthcare advocates to focus on the beautiful forest. Distract, don’t detail. But ironically it is now Gruber who has left the bitter impression.
It’s not the first time the supposedly brilliant guy has looked so dumb, or the smart choice such a surprising weak choice. Consider the fact that when voters back in 2000 were asked who seemed the smarter presidential candidate in the debates -- Al Gore or George Bush -- by overwhelming margins, they gave the nod to Gore. But when asked who they liked more, it was Bush by a country mile.
Ditto Ronald Reagan in 1980 after his one and only debate with Jimmy Carter. Most Americans who watched the debate said Carter seemed in better command of the facts, but Reagan struck them as more trustworthy and likable.
It’s weird, but in American business as well, it’s a fairly reliable constant. We tend to veer not to the smartest guy in the class, but often the more appealing guy -- or gal (not a very erudite remark there, right?). My point is people don’t gravitate to idiots, but they often find idiotic those who come across as anything but. We are all human, and we like people who seem human. Perfection is to be admired. Wearing it on your sleeve is not.
None of this makes Gruber any less brilliant; just a whole lot less endearing. Ironically the man in charge of selling ObamaCare to the masses forgot the masses, and he did so by committing the biggest sin of all -- dismissing the masses! It wasn’t so much that he wasn’t inhuman, but that he failed to see he was human. It was at that point, and with that swipe, that Gruber lost all humans. The smart ones and as Gruber would discover, the not-so-smart ones too.
Only he didn’t call them not-so-smart, did he?