Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Joseph Bottum notes that Jon Gruber (the economist who created Obamacare) and Matt Taylor (the rocket scientist who landed a robot on a comet) essentially committed the same faux pas:

Gruber and Taylor - Jonathan and Matt. They're blood brothers, in their way, joined by their place in the current news cycle. Joined by more than that, in fact, for they both made the same mistake. They both thoughtlessly assumed that behaviors that were risk-free in their small social groups would be risk-free in the larger culture. They both mistook the manners of the tribe for the manners of the nation. [. . .]

They both took behavior that is thought acceptable and even admirably daring within their particular subgroups and found that it doesn't play so well on a larger public stage. In Taylor's case, that's the geeky world of rocket scientists and science-fiction devotees, where it's hip - among those not typically known for their hipness - to make knowing references back to the bullet-breasted heroines in tight costumes who graced the covers of 1950s sci-fi pulp. Taylor's shirt is the kind that would have gotten a cheer at the monthly programmers' club meeting in Palo Alto.

In Gruber's case, the subgroup is powerful professors. Professors, that is to say, who've been let in on some important business or government project and return home to tell their fellow academics all about it. Watch any of the Gruber videos, and you'll see it right away. What the man is trying to tell his audiences in these mostly college settings is that he's an insider. He's seen how the sausage is made, and he's returned home to confirm his friends' suspicions about how comic, duplicitous, and bizarre are the inner workings of government. Of course, he's also seeking the admiration of his fellow academics. The subtext of his performances is that, just as we scholars always suspected, the American political system can be gamed and beaten by us smart professors (especially admirable, cynical me). Gruber is a hipster, among those not typically known for their hipness, and he wowed 'em at the faculty club.


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