Tuesday, February 10, 2009

To Your Health.

     Matt Drudge--in his usual breathless, bold-faced hyperbole (in red this time!)--had this headline on his website tonight:


     Oh, horrors!
     The link took me to a Bloomberg piece written by Betsy McCaughey. In it, she slams President Obama's health care provisions in the stimulus bill as "dangerous to your health."
     Doesn't she fit right in with the rest of the GOP Confederacy? 
     I thought her name sounded vaguely familiar, so I did a little research. Betsy McCaughey is the attack dog also (once? still?) known as Elizabeth McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York under Republican George Pataki.
     More to the point, Betsy (Elizabeth?) was a harsh critic of the Clinton health care plan, and many of her claims were proven false. McCaughey wrote a widely discredited article for The New Republic eviscerating the Clinton plan. She was--and is--well known in Republican circles, where talk of any government investment for health care equals a new Red Scare. 

     From that era, here's James Fallows in The Atlantic, January 1995.

Much of the problem for the plan seemed, at least in Washington, to come not even from mandatory alliances but from an article by Elizabeth McCaughey, then of the Manhattan Institute, published in The New Republic last February.   The article's working premise was that McCaughey, with no ax to grind and no preconceptions about health care, sat down for a careful reading of the whole Clinton bill. Appalled at the hidden provisions she found, she felt it her duty to warn people about what the bill might mean. The title of her article was "No Exit," and the message was that Bill and Hillary Clinton had proposed a system that would lock people in to government-run care. "The law will prevent you from going outside the system to buy basic health coverage you think is better," McCaughey wrote in the first paragraph. "The doctor can be paid only by the plan, not by you."

George Will immediately picked up this warning, writing in Newsweek that "it would be illegal for doctors to accept money directly from patients, and there would be 15-year jail terms for people driven to bribery for care they feel they need but the government does not deem 'necessary.'" The "doctors in jail" concept soon turned up on talk shows and was echoed for the rest of the year.

These claims, McCaughey's and Will's, were simply false. McCaughey's pose of impartiality was undermined by her campaign as the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor of New York soon after her article was published. I was less impressed with her scholarly precision after I compared her article with the text of the Clinton bill. Her shocked claim that coverage would be available only for "necessary" and "appropriate" treatment suggested that she had not looked at any of today's insurance policies. In claiming that the bill would make it impossible to go outside the health plan or pay doctors on one's own, she had apparently skipped past practically the first provision of the bill (Sec. 1003), which said,"Nothing in this Act shall be construed as prohibiting the following: (1) An individual from purchasing any health care services." 

It didn't matter. The White House issued a point-by-point rebuttal, which The New Republic did not run. Instead it published a long piece by McCaughey attacking the White House statement. The idea of health policemen stuck.

     From Andrew Sullivan, that era's editor of The New Republic, who acknowledges that much of McCaughey's article was B.S.:

My sin was to publish a major article by Elizabeth McCaughey called "No Exit" that posited that Hillarycare 2.0 would inevitably lead to the extinction of much private medicine. 

I don't think it's fair to expose the internal editing of a piece but there was a struggle and it's fair to say I didn't win every skirmish. I was aware of the piece's flaws but nonetheless was comfortable running it as a provocation to debate. It sure was. The magazine fully aired subsequent criticism of the piece.

     So, to recap, Betsy (Elizabeth?) is back. Her latest health care hit piece in Bloomberg is linked on brother-in-arms Matt Drudge's site, a right-wing favorite. Drudge, of course, is a GOP tool, and he has Monica Lewinsky to forever thank for making him a household name. 

     Matt Drudge is hopeless. But back to Betsy (Elizabeth?): it's been 15 years since she butchered that article in The New Republic. Do you think she's learned how to finally get her facts straight yet?   


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