Fooling 'stupid' American voters? Totally legal

It's fashionable in America today to talk about how the moneyed interests are truly in control and we don't really have a democracy.

File photo Jonathan Gruber
Pablo Martinez Monsivais | AP
File photo Jonathan Gruber

The most common argument basically insists that we have something of a corporatist/Wall Street plutocracy in charge with both major parties bought and paid for.

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Naivete isn't my thing, so I'm not here to totally refute that belief. It's certainly true that powerful financial interests of all kinds, whether they be corporations or unions or wealthy individual private donors, have inordinate control over our governing process and politicians themselves.

But the real power in America is the government itself, also known as the political class, and the incident involving Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber proves the point.

Think about it: Were Gruber's blunt statements about how the Obamacare bill was crafted to fool "stupid" American voters the result of some corporate or lobbyist payoff or influence?

Not a chance.

Were they even the result of a well-crafted plan just to win votes for his Democratic Party employers in Congress?


Actually the opposite is true, as Gruber was clandestinely working on the details of legislation most of the American public has consistently opposed and then he blew that cover with four or five, (and counting), public boasts about what he was doing all along. Thus, his political patrons who actually do have to run for office are running away from him as fast as they can.

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The point is, the U.S. government is a massive entity bigger than any corporation or army in world history. It's currently taking in $3 trillion and spending more than $4 trillion per year.

And most of that money is either handled by or directly paid to those generally unknown and unaccountable members of the political class.

It's pretty hard for anything to control something like that, except for the people inside it themselves. As a trusted and well-paid consultant working on a massive health-insurance-reform law, Gruber and many like him have almost free reign to do what they want. Not only are they unaccountable to the voters, but when no one in Congress even bothers to read their bills they're not even accountable to the people who hired them. And believe me, the Affordable Care Act isn't the only bill no one elected to Congress has actually read.

Gruber himself has made hundreds of thousands of dollars consulting on the national Affordable Care Act and similar health insurance laws in states all over the country. But that's chicken feed compared to what professional bill drafters working on Senate and House staffs can make when they jump to the private sector.

Look at Senator Mark Warner of Virginia. Before he ran for office himself, he was the hard-working son of a lower middle class family who made it all the way to Harvard Law school and then a job on former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd's staff. While working for Dodd, Warner helped write the very confusing and lengthy new rules for the telecom industry through the 1980s. Then Warner left government work and he made an estimated fortune of between $200 million and $300 million not only banking on his unique understanding of the laws he himself crafted, but also brokering mobile phone licenses. It's a nifty little trick: work in government to make the complicated laws only you really understand, and then cash in on all of that when you jump to the private sector.

It's all legal, all untouchable.

And there's no stopping it. Not unless someone finally follows through on the longstanding conservative promises to actually reduce the size and power of the federal government.

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Republicans might be jumping with glee over the newly-discovered Gruber tapes and the potential landmines they create for the future of Obamacare. But the GOP is fooling itself and acting quite a bit hypocritically if it thinks it's innocent of the same kinds of malfeasance.

Under President George W. Bush, not only did the government expand but a big part of the expansion was the creation of the highly bureaucratic and huge Department of Homeland Security. And former top officials from the DHS have similarly made a fortune consulting on security matters and new government anti-terrorism laws. The merry-go-round is indeed running on full speed for both parties.

So you can blame lefty Democrats, right wing Republicans, the Kochs, Tom Steyer and George Soros all you want. But the real power in America comes from those mostly unseen and unelected government staffers and consultants who run the show — and they know it.

Jonathan Gruber is not unique, he's just the only one we have on tape.Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Street Signs." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.