On the Stupidity of the American Voter

No matter how low your opinion of Washington, it is nothing compared to Washington’s low opinion of you.


A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how the people running America despise real, live Americans. A few days ago I got a wonderful confirmation.

Back when the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) was passed, the President promised that if you liked your doctor you could keep your doctor,that costs would go down, that you could keep the insurance you had, that only the most luxurious of private health insurance plans would be taxed.

Conservative Tea Party types were not impressed: the law is vague, the math does not work, it is impossible for those promises to be kept, and leaped to the conclusion that Obama is a lying son of a bitch.

(Personally, I have no settled opinion on if a state-run health-care system is in any way better or worse than a market. In the United States the “system” is a muddle of state and private interests. The quality of care is excellent, the cost is obscene. Basic economics would suggest the solution to high costs is to remove protectionism and obstacles on increasing the supply, but that is just my opinion.)

As to whether or not Obama was intentionally misleading people or just talking out of his ass was never clear. But now a bunch of videos have come out in which one of the administration’s experts (MIT’s Jon Gruber) not only admits, but brags about the fact that the law was intentionally vague, that insurance plans would be cancelled, that taxes would be raised, etc. He argues that if Americans really knew what was in the law, it never would have passed, but fortunately, the American voter is stupid.

Of which American voters is Gruber speaking? Is he speaking about the American voters (Democrats) who were stupid enough to trust the President? Or is he speaking about the American voters who were smart enough to see through the lies, but are too stupid to know what is really good for them (Republicans)? I would not be surprised if someone like Gruber thinks members of his own party are actually stupider than those of the opposition. If you are a politician your contempt for the voters must be strong: after all, they believe the same lies you tell them year in, year out.

But are the voters really as stupid as the politicians believe? It is tempting to think so: after all, every two years about half of them vote in the opposite way we would like. Every time our side wins we crow about the wisdom of the American voter. Every time the other side wins we complain about the stupidity of the American voter.

I don’t think the voters are stupid, their priorities are actually good: they have careers, families, friends and neighborhoods to worry about. Political parties rotate in and out of power without dramatic changes for better or worse. The vast majority of our social interactions operate on a level unrelated to politics, and that is the way it should be.

The problem however is that while we might not be very interested in politics beyond occasionally pulling the lever for (D) or (R), politics is interested in us. Here is the pattern: in order to increase his prestige a politician identifies a problem, an issue he uses to proclaim himself as the savior while demonizing his opponents. The problem may be real, real but exaggerated, fictitious, or unsolvable. It may even be a problem the politician created himself. Once in power, he passes a law which gives him nominal authority over the real/fake/unsolvable problem, and sets up a panel of bureaucrats and teams of law enforcement whose livelihoods now depend on the problem never being resolved. Thus the power of government to annoy its citizens increases, while its actual capacity to solve problems is diluted.

The solution to this problem?

Maybe there isn’t one.




One comment

  1. The truly stupid people are the pundits overly focused on a single misuse of the word “stupid”, when what Gruber meant was uninformed, i.e. low-information voters. We all know there are millions of them, but people resist seeing themselves as one, and therefore take offense. Good article!

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