The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of Betsy McCaughey


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One of the wackier developments in the recent health care debate has been the sudden return of Betsy McCaughey. Fifteen years ago McCaughey wrote an error-laden piece for the New Republic, a piece the magazine later recanted, that became a rallying cry of the successful effort to kill Clintoncare, and that McCaughey parlayed into a short-lived career as the lieutenant governor of New York. McCaughey's health-care shtick in 1994 was to brag about having read all 1,000-plus pages of the bill and cite, with Biblical certainty, obscure provisions that made the Clintons look like serial killers.

And now McCaughey is back. And her shtick, like a bug trapped in the amber of the Clinton years, is to brag about having read the entire bill, while pointing to obscure provisions that make all that Obama campaign stuff about hope and change look like an excuse to get into office and start knocking off the elderly. Here she is in the Wall Street Journal, citing page numbers in various bills to equate comparative effectiveness research with "limiting care based on the patient's age." Here she is on Fox News, dropping page numbers to claim that the congressional plan will force you out of your current insurance program. And here she is on Fred Thompson's radio show, ostentatiously citing her reading of the bill to make the claim that "Congress would make it mandatory...that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner,"  

That last claim about required government euthanasia counseling -- repeated hundreds of times in dozens of places over the past week -- is worth lingering over. I confess I have not read the entire House bill and, honestly, I have no plans on doing so. (Life is short, even without considering Obama's plans to euthanize us all.) But McCaughey's claim has the distinct whiff of bullshit, and I am moderately capable of using Google. So allow me to report, after five minutes of searching and reading the relevant section of the bill: There is absolutely nothing about a "required counseling session." Nothing. There is a requirement that Medicare cover the session if you haven't had it in the past five years but, naturally, that doesn't mean you are required to take advantage of the coverage. (And, by the way, the sessions in question would cover dozens of dull, informational topics besides scandalous end-of-life care.)

So it turns out that what Betsy McCaughey says is not true. But what I'm more interested in is the cruel paradox presented by a character like McCaughey: I realize that I am playing into her trap by giving her ridiculous pap additional attention. Is there a good way around that? I don't know. I do think there are people making good arguments against health-care reform -- among them Arnold Kling and Greg Mankiw and my colleague Megan McCardle. McCaughey is not one of them. The best I can do is say that her schtick about page counts and euthanasia is getting old. 

Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

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