Jonathan Gruber? Doesn't ring a bell.
Jonathan Gruber? Wasn't even on our staff!
Jonathan Gruber? That guy — what a loser. I would never associate with such people.
This is essentially what top Democrats have said about the MIT professor and White House health-care consultant in the wake of the appearance of a video in which he implies the Affordable Care Act passed because of the "stupidity" of the American people. Such efforts to distance oneself from another person, though, often come with a healthy dose of convenient — and sometimes misleading — verbiage.
Here's a sampling of the distancing, along with what the top Democrats really meant.
(And for further reading on just how much work Gruber did on Obamacare, see here.)
Nancy Pelosi: "I don't know who he is. He didn't help write our bill."
Translation: OK, technically I do know who he is, and I've even cited his work. But we're not buddies. Also, while he was paid $400,000 to consult the White House on the law and played a significant role, he didn't technically write the bill.
The second half of this statement is, again, technically, true. But it masks the fact that Gruber played an important role in the final Obamacare product. Few people involved with the law actually could be described as its author — up to and including, probably, Pelosi. But many people had plenty of input and knowledge of its evolution, including Gruber, who specializes in this stuff, after all.
By saying Gruber didn't write the bill, Pelosi seems to be trying to undermine his case that the bill was written in a way to hide its true intent from the public. But, if he didn't write it, how would he know?
But whether he wrote it or not, it's clear that Gruber was significantly involved in how the bill was crafted, as Karen Tumulty notes. You don't do meetings in the Oval Office unless your input matters.
President Obama: “The fact that an adviser who was never on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is not a reflection on the actual process that was run."
Translation: Gruber was an outside consultant, not a staffer.
This, again, is Democrats trying to slice and dice Gruber's role in the process, saying he was never on the staff suggests he wasn't really all that involved. But again, he was paid $400,000 to consult on the matter. As American taxpayers, we should all hope he did something to earn that money.
Saying Gruber wasn't on staff isn't the same as saying he wasn't involved, of course, but we're guessing most casual observers would assume the latter.
David Axelrod: "As one who worked hard to make ACA and its benefits clear, let me say: If you looked up 'stupid' in dictionary, you'd find Gruber's picture."
Translation: I'm the high-ranking former White House aide who doesn't work there anymore, so I can say stuff like this. So here it is: Get lost, Gruber.
Axelrod, probably more than anybody, is the strategic soul of the Obama administration, and he's more comfortable than other top former Obama officials in speaking his mind. He actually likes to be a pundit.
This is basically what Obama and Pelosi would say if they could speak freely. Democrats are beside themselves that Gruber felt the need to express himself, in a public forum, in such a crass and cynical way. (Especially because he's gotten himself into trouble in the past with his, um, candor.) It's never a good idea to even suggest that Americans are stupid and that you preyed on that fact.
Axelrod goes further than the others because he can. And he did. We'll see how much others feel the need to de-Gruber themselves.
Update 1:08 p.m.: Axelrod just expanded on his previous comment on his Twitter account:
One additional note on Gruber: His contributions to the ACA, like Gov. Romney's MA plan, were valuable. His throwaway quips were offensive.— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) November 17, 2014
The "valuable" line is key here. However much others downplay Gruber's role in crafting ACA, it's clear it wasn't nothing.