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Associate Attorney, Blethen, Gage & Krause

Politics versus the people

Is it OK for the political class to have contempt for the rest of us?

This is not an abstract question, because it is clear that a large chunk of the political class (including the part of the media that covers politics) behaves as if it has total contempt for the average person.

Such contempt is nothing new; it is the stock and trade of aristocracies, oligarchies, kingdoms and one-party states. Over human history, most claims to rule have been based upon some form or another of the claim: “I/we know better or are better than you.”

But such contempt is at odds with the very basis of the American form of government, and its suppression has, on the whole, been good for us. Politicians have not been our rulers, mostly.

Unsurprisingly, many in the political class aren’t fond of this arrangement. Just as college professors in America have long envied the lofty privileges of their class in Europe, and have worked to emulate them, politicians and public policy gurus have increased their power at the expense of the electorate.

The increased size and complexity of government is their most powerful weapon in this regard, and the complicity of the mainstream media their greatest ally.

No example is clearer than the recent “controversy” over the musings of Jonathan Gruber, who until a few days ago was hailed as one of the architects of Obamacare.

I put controversy in quotation marks, because if you don’t watch Fox News, read conservative publications, or dive very deep indeed into reporting on government, you would hardly know that Gruber has been on a tear recently bragging about how they passed Obamacare in its current form largely due to the stupidity of the American people — and how they wrote the law in a deliberately obscure way to take advantage of that “stupidity.”

Gruber’s comments have been out there on video for as long as two years, and were made at prominent conferences about the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Yet the only reason they surfaced was that an irate citizen got ticked off about the cancelation of his health care policy. No reporter would touch the comments until a right wing website — the Daily Caller — seized upon them.

And still, most mainstream media didn’t report on them until recent days, despite the fact that they are likely to feature prominently in a case to be heard at the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of the ACA.

Gruber’s comments are a prime, but hardly lonely example, of the political class’s contempt for Americans — and of the willingness of the mainstream media to side with the political class over average Americans. As long as the mainstream media essentially ignores the fact that the chief architect of the law was explaining to fellow economists that deception was key to the ACA’s passage, the media is deceiving Americans. People have a right to know that they were lied to.

A government as large and complex as our own creates the need for experts and technocrats, and justifies an unwillingness to take seriously the average people’s opinions about what should be done. That is one of the prime reasons to avoid large and complex government.

I hope that I am wrong, but I have a strong suspicion that we will soon be seeing an example of such contempt for the voters play out here in Minnesota.

During the campaign Gov. Mark Dayton floated the idea of a tax on gasoline at the wholesale level, prompting a lot of commentary suggesting that he was trying to hide the tax increase by not taxing it at the pump.

That would be cynical enough, but I think the cynicism runs much deeper. I suspect that Dayton and his advisers want to impose the tax at the wholesale level not because it would be hidden — after all, the tax is relatively hidden at the pump as well, not tacked on as a separate charge.

I think Dayton wants to tax gasoline at the wholesale level to avoid the constitutional dedication of the gasoline excise tax to roads. Such a tax would go into the general fund, or a fund defined by the Legislature. It could be used to fund trains, bikes, sidewalks, or just about anything else Dayton would like it to. It would be a great swindle on Minnesotans, who believe gas taxes go to roads.

Such a bait and switch — should it occur — would be a great example of cynicism, driven by a belief that Minnesotans are too stupid to know they had been fleeced. Perhaps, the Dayton administration could get away with it. But not because Minnesotans are stupid, but because they are naïve enough to trust people they elect.

Frankly, I prefer the naïve to the cynical, and don’t blame the conned but the con men. And, unless our media do a better job, the cynical will continue to win.

David Strom is a Senior Policy Fellow at the Center of the American Experiment.

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